As a native Rhode Islander who relocated after college, I’m used to hearing the state get bashed or draw blank stares. My favorite is when people refer to Rhode Island as a unit of measure because of its size (1545 square miles). Many an oil spill has been described in terms of how many times the size of Rhode Island it is. It certainly took me by surprise to learn yesterday that Rhode Island is leading the effort to develop offshore renewable energy.
One promising avenue for wind energy is in the offshore realm – more than 20 miles from shore in Federal Waters. As sailors know, the offshore winds are stronger and steadier than onshore winds. Plus, people onshore won’t be bothered by blemished ocean views or noise from huge turbines. Extending cables in deep water is not difficult.
Ironically, the technology that will make siting these monstrous wind turbines offshore in deep water comes precisely from the industry they would be designed to supplant: the oil industry. We’ve been drilling and producing oil and gas from platforms erected in deep water for decades. This off-the-shelf technology will enable us to tap into a source of local renewable energy.
Why Rhode Island? Kate Moran, Associate Dean of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography and her colleagues have been working to make this happen. In her August 3rd lecture at the South Ferry Church in Narragansett, Moran said that central and northern Atlantic states have ideal offshore wind conditions and that the regulatory framework is already in place in RI.
Rhode Island set a goal of increasing its renewable energy supply from 2% to 16% by 2020. Further incentive is Block Island, a small island off the coast which has the most expensive electricity rates in the nation – $0.65/kilowatt hour. The largely unused industrial zone at Quonset is a prime sea-side staging area for the project. With Newport being a sailing mecca of sorts, there is also local expertise on the composite materials needed to make these turbines. Finally, Rhode Island is the “Ocean State” or so our license plates tell us.
Yah, Little Rhody, you go twirl! It makes me so proud, finally, to be a Rhode Islander.