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America's First Offshore Wind Farm Goes Online

Energy

By Kit Kennedy

With the flip of a switch Monday, the country's first offshore wind power project began commercial operations. That's something to celebrate—and it's only the beginning for this abundant energy resource!

An American First: The nation's first offshore wind power project, located off the Rhode Island coast, can be the first of many, as long as federal and state governments continue to lead with smart policies.

Developed by U.S.-based Deepwater Wind, the Block Island Wind Farm is located three miles southeast of Block Island, in Rhode Island waters and features five 6-megawatt turbines—enough to power 17,000 homes; transmission cables connect the turbines to Block Island and the mainland. Four of the turbines went online Monday and Deepwater expects the fifth to be operating next month once a minor fix is made.

Previously, Block Island relied on an electricity plant that burned polluting and expensive diesel oil. By displacing that plant, the Block Island Wind Farm will not only improve public health and air quality, but also reduce the cost of electricity for Block Islanders by as much as 40 percent.

Deepwater employed more than 300 local workers in the construction process, including welders, ironworkers, electricians and carpenters, with vessels moving in and out of four Rhode Island ports. The massive steel support structures for the turbines were built by Gulf Island Fabrication, a Louisiana- and Texas-based offshore oil and gas platform manufacturer.

And these jobs will be only the beginning, if the U.S. continues to commit to offshore wind power. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that by 2050, with the right policies in place, the offshore wind industry could support 160,000 jobs here in America.

Deepwater worked hard, with stakeholders and others, to build support for the project and minimize conflicts. And the Natural Resources Defense Council was proud to join them, other environmental groups and the New England Aquarium in developing specific steps to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales in the area during project construction; Deepwater will follow similar protective measures in building other offshore wind projects in the area.

NRDC is proud to have joined other environmental groups, the New England Aquarium, and developer Deepwater Wind in developing steps to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales during construction. That's me visiting during the initial construction.

Block Island is Just the Start for Wind Power

At least ten other U.S. offshore wind projects are already poised to move forward. And soon, the Long Island Power Authority, with the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is slated to approve a contract for a 90-megawatt offshore wind project 30 miles northeast of Montauk.

The federal agency in charge of offshore wind power siting—the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management—has already granted 11 leases to offshore wind developers in designated "wind energy areas" along the Atlantic coast. These developers include American companies such as Deepwater Wind and Fishermen's Energy, as well as leading European developers like DONG Energy. Overall, the U.S. Department of Energy sees the potential to develop 86 gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity by 2050, enough to power 31 million homes.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 's next offshore wind leasing auction is scheduled for Dec. 15 for the New York wind energy area, an 80,000-acre area located 12 miles south of the Rockaways and Long Beach. New York's clean energy agency, NYSERDA, will participate in that auction as part of an innovative plan for the state to guide offshore wind development and promote competition.

Next up: The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is slated to auction leasing rights to an offshore wind energy area on Dec. 15, as offshore wind power continues to make progress here in the U.S. after decades of success in Europe. U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Offshore Wind Costs are Coming Down

Eighty-two offshore wind power projects in a dozen European countries now supply electricity to 8 million European homes. As offshore wind in Europe has scaled up, a robust supply chain has developed and technology has advanced, resulting in plummeting costs there. In fact, prices have dropped by 28 percent since the second half of 2015 alone and continue to fall.

The U.S. offshore wind industry will also experience these lower costs as more projects are built and the U.S. creates its own supply chain. In some areas, such as Long Island's South Fork where electricity prices are high and land for generation or transmission is scarce, offshore wind power is already cost-competitive. The Long Island Power Authority, for instance, has stated that the South Fork offshore wind project is the lowest cost option for that region's needs.

Offshore wind will add economic value in other ways, too. Eighty percent of the electricity used in the U.S. is consumed in coastal states, much of it in population centers close to offshore winds. By avoiding the need for lengthy and expensive new transmission infrastructure, offshore wind can reduce system costs. And because offshore wind power produces the most electricity when demand is high—on hot summer afternoons and cold winter days and nights—it can help make the electric grid more reliable and lower wholesale electricity costs, which skyrocket when demand soars. Offshore wind also produces health benefits by displacing fossil fuel power generation, not only protecting our communities but avoiding an array of health-related costs.

Moving Forward

Because of its jobs, infrastructure, clean energy and public health benefits, offshore wind has won bipartisan support at the state level. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, for instance, signed legislation this summer that will lead to the construction of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind capacity off Massachusetts within a decade. New York's Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has committed to making offshore wind a key part of his plan to get 50 percent of New York's electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

While offshore wind generation is just beginning, America's onshore wind industry continues to surge, providing almost 5 percent of U.S. electricity generation last year and surpassing 75 gigawatts of total capacity this year.

During the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump vowed to strengthen American infrastructure and create jobs. Investing in clean energy—from energy efficiency to land-based wind to solar and offshore wind power—is the smartest way to do this. For progress on offshore wind to continue at the right pace, the federal government must continue to be an active partner with states like Massachusetts and New York in siting offshore wind infrastructure. As the new administration and Congress take office, the Natural Resources Defense Council will work with other clean energy stakeholders to build the case for this partnership and all the benefits it can produce.

Check out this new video about the Block Island Wind Farm:

Kit Kennedy oversees many Natural Resources Defense Council projects relating to energy efficiency, renewable energy and global-warming solutions.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.