PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It will be a few years before energy is generated by any offshore wind farm in the United States, but efforts to get more of the nation’s energy from such sources took a major step forward last week when the federal government for the first time auctioned off leases for wind energy on the outer continental shelf.
Providence-based Deepwater Wind was the provisional winner of the two leases for an area that starts around 10 miles off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and stretches between and to the south of Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard. The company bid $3.8 million for the two leases combined, beating out two other bidders in the auction held Wednesday by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the U.S. Department of Interior.
Tommy Beaudreau, director of the bureau, called it a historic moment in the future of clean energy in the country and said it would help in meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of increasing the amount of clean energy generated on public lands. The Department of Energy has estimated the area could support enough electricity to power more than 1 million homes.
There are no offshore wind farms in the U.S., though several are being developed, including Cape Wind off Cape Cod and a small 5-turbine project off Block Island, being developed by Deepwater.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also plans to auction off leases for several other offshore wind development areas, including Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia, where an auction will be held next month.
Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski said after the auction that the work for his company begins now. It will have to look closely at the area it is leasing and win state and federal permits that will allow the company to begin construction. That process is expected to last into 2015.
“We need to study everything from the birds and the whales to the ocean floor. We need to study the wind patterns out there and the waves,” Grybowski said.
Assuming it receives permits, Deepwater will then begin construction onshore of foundations and other components, which will happen at Quonset Point in North Kingstown. Grybowski said an aggressive schedule could mean the company starts putting turbines in the water in 2017. It plans to erect 200 turbines, which would generate 1,000 megawatts, he said.
The project would start generating power in 2018.
The first offshore wind farm operating in the U.S. is expected to be either Deepwater’s smaller project or Cape Wind. Cape Wind officials have said construction could begin later this year, while Grybowski said work is scheduled to start next year on the 5-turbine Deepwater project, with operation expected in 2015.