Block Island has some of America’s best breezes, a natural resource that's lured sailors for generations. Now the community is on the verge of harnessing that resource in a new way with offshore wind energy.
One of those unique New England treasures, Block Island hits a perfect balance – close enough to the mainland to warrant a daysail, while its pace and landscape assure you that you’re on vacation. Yet somewhere along those 13 miles the price of your Mudslide, and everything else, managed to skyrocket. No one would expect bargain basement prices in a vacation paradise adjacent to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, but then you get to your hotel room and realize there’s no air conditioner.
“If we put an air conditioner in your room, we’d have to double your rate,” the desk clerk tells me. “We pay some of the highest electricity prices anywhere in the country.”
While offshore wind energy is usually talked about as a higher-priced electricity source, on Block Island the five-turbine, 30 megawatt project proposed by Providence, RI-based Deepwater Wind will be a huge money saver. Americans pay an average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour for their electricity and 15 cents per kilowatt hour in Rhode Island, but out on Block Island, thanks to the community’s antiquated and highly polluting diesel electricity generator, electricity averages an incredible 47 cents per kilowatt hour. Some hotels pay as much as $50,000 per month in electricity bills. Offshore wind is projected to save Block Island residents and businesses 42 percent on their electricity bills – even more when demand is high.
“In winter when only year-round residents are on the island, my bill’s usually about 45 cents a kilowatt hour,” says Bryan Wilson, a longtime Block Island resident and Deepwater Wind’s local outreach consultant. “But in the summer the island’s electricity usage quadruples and rates can spike as high as 65 cents a kilowatt hour.”
The National Wildlife Federation strongly supports offshore wind energy that’s sited, developed, and operated in a wildlife-friendly manner. Not only do scientific studies show that properly locating turbines and requiring best management practices can minimize impacts on birds, bats, sea turtles and marine mammals, but transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy benefits all wildlife from cleaner air and water and cutting the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Learn more at NWF.org/OffshoreWind.
President Obama’s recently announced plan to confront climate change includes important incentives for offshore wind. It includes a goal to double electricity fueled by renewable energy by 2020 nationally. This will be kick-started by a goal of 10 gigawatts’ worth of permits for renewable energy projects on public lands and in public waters by 2020.
During Block Island Race Week in June, National Wildlife Federation staffers joined evening events to talk to participating sailors about offshore wind. Most told us they wholeheartedly supported the project and asked how they could help, while some expressed concern about offshore wind turbines marking a change in Block Island’s rustic tradition.
But Block Island has already seen plenty of change over the years. That diesel generator wasn’t there when the first settlers arrived, but islanders decided electricity would be an improvement. The ships that pioneers arrived on hardly resembled the fiberglass boats with fossil-fueled engines that line the docks today, and as the island has no natural harbors, the shoreline got a lot more inviting when the federal government decided to build a breakwater in 1870. Block Islanders and sailors alike have made decisions throughout history to alter tradition for the sake of progress – decisions especially difficult on a landscape so rich with nostalgia. Whether to embrace wind power is another one of those decisions, and should be welcomed as an easy one, one that meets the energy demands of residents and visitors while reviving the local economy and celebrating Block’s most abundant resource.
Now, as Block Island faces not only steep energy bills but rising sea levels and strengthening superstorms thanks to climate change, five thumb-sized turbines on the horizon could slash electricity rates, eliminate 1 million gallons of diesel fuel’s worth of annual carbon pollution, and provide a guiding light for America’s emerging offshore wind industry. Block Islanders could honor history in the most important way, one that allows future members of the community to breathe air as fresh – and sail on water as clean – as the many generations before them were able to enjoy. Will America get on board?
Miles Grant is the National Wildlife Federation’s senior communications manager. He lives in New Bedford, MA.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of WindCheck.