The Block Island Wind Farm, an offshore electric power generating facility in the waters of Rhode Island, is now complete. Testing has started, and according to a press release from Deepwater Wind, the project's developer, the power station should start delivering juice in January. The Westerly Sun had this report (see: "Big step closer to making history," by Cynthia Drummond). "When it begins producing power sometime this fall, the wind farm will generate 30 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 17,000 homes. It will supply electricity to all of Block Island, replacing the island’s smog-producing diesel generator, and is expected to save residents up to 40 percent on their electric bills," the Sun reported.

With just five turbines, the project is a small start. But as the first operational offshore wind-power project in the U.S., the Block Island Wind Farm could mark the beginning of a new era for renewable power in the United States. "By global standards, the Block Island Wind Farm is a tiny project, just five turbines capable of powering about 17,000 homes," noted the New York Times (see: "America’s First Offshore Wind Farm May Power Up a New Industry," by Justin Gillis). "Yet many people are hoping its completion, with the final blade bolted into place at the end of last week, will mark the start of a new American industry, one that could eventually make a huge contribution to reducing the nation’s climate-changing pollution ... The turbines are easier and cheaper to build on land. But the wind is also weaker on land, and the power the machines produce there is intermittent. The stronger breezes in the ocean can produce steadier power, potentially helping to balance out intermittent renewable sources like solar panels and onshore turbines."

In an editorial (see: "The Unlimited Power of Ocean Winds"), the Times noted, "There are 22 other offshore wind projects in various stages of development across the country, according to a recent report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Many of them are in the Northeast, including a proposal before the Long Island Power Authority for a wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk that would supply electricity to the Hamptons. The Atlantic coast is a good place to build wind farms because the water is relatively shallow, which makes it cheaper to install the turbine platforms. Pacific coast waters, being much deeper, would require placing turbines on more expensive floating platforms. A few decades ago, the idea of harnessing the power of ocean winds seemed entirely impractical. In the next 10 years, these offshore farms should become commonplace."

Building the project's five platforms and turbines was a technical feat, involving specialized ships from Europe. Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski has been tweeting dramatic photos of the construction process, like the image below. But the project was also a political feat: an ambitious previous project off the shore of Massachusetts known as Cape Wind appears to be stalled for good because of political opposition.

Starting small may have been one key to the Block Island project's success, noted the Washington Post (see: "The nation’s first offshore wind farm is ready to go, despite critics’ blowback," by Brady Dennis). "In part because of its deliberately small size, only the Block Island wind farm has successfully navigated the legal, regulatory and political hurdles that have tripped up others," the paper reported. "Deepwater Wind, the Providence-based company behind the facility, views it as a steppingstone to much bigger endeavors. 'Something had to be first,' said the company’s chief executive, Jeff Grybowski. 'Some project had to be successful in order for the U.S. to be able to begin taking advantage of this huge resource."

The Providence Journal has a closer look at the Block Island project here (see: "At nation's first offshore wind farm in R.I., it's almost harvest time," by Alex Kuffner). The next question, the Journal observed, is whether the new wind farm can stand the test of time. "Will the five towering wind turbines start spinning without any problems as scheduled by Nov. 1? Will the 30-megawatt wind farm generate enough power for 17,000 homes as promised? Will the turbines and the complex systems inside them hold up in the extreme Atlantic Ocean environment for the next two decades as planned?" the paper wondered. "Deepwater and its project partners will be hoping that the installation of the turbines — completed without a hitch and ahead of schedule — is an indication of how those questions eventually will be answered."