Several years after Europe, the first commercial offshore wind power is being generated and sent to the US grid by rotating blades.

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — Despite some recent financial setbacks, U.S. offshore windpower has hit a milestone. An 800-foot tall turbine is now sending electricity onto the grid from a commercial-scale offshore wind farm on pace to be the country’s first.

This milestone has been in the works for years and is seen as a small step towards the much larger effort needed to expand clean electricity in order to combat climate change, according to experts.

Ørsted, a company specializing in Danish wind energy, and Eversource, a utility company, have announced that the first electricity has been produced from the South Fork Wind project. This 12-turbine wind farm is located 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of Montauk Point, New York and will be the first offshore wind farm in the state.

On Wednesday, Ørsted and Eversource held a meeting with New York authorities to commemorate their “first power” achievement in East Hampton, New York. This marks the successful connection of the wind farm to the onshore electric grid. The companies believe that this milestone sets a precedent for future large-scale offshore wind farms in the United States.

Currently, two out of the 11-megawatt turbines have been installed and are operational. The second turbine is currently being tested and once it passes, it will also begin producing power. Once all ten turbines are functioning and the South Fork project is launched in early 2021, it will have the capability to produce 132 megawatts of offshore wind energy, providing electricity for over 70,000 households.

Stephanie McClellan, executive director of the nonprofit Turn Forward, which promotes offshore wind energy, described the initial power declaration as a significant moment in the development of clean energy in America. She believes that South Fork will serve as a dependable and environmentally-friendly source of domestically-generated power.

She stated that this is only the start of the potential of offshore wind.

New York is relying heavily on offshore wind power in its efforts to switch to a carbon-neutral electricity system by 2040. Its goal is to have 9 gigawatts of offshore wind energy installed by 2035.

“New York’s nation-leading efforts to generate reliable, renewable clean energy have reached a major milestone,” New York Gov. Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement Wednesday. “South Fork Wind will power thousands of homes, create good-paying union jobs and demonstrate to all that offshore wind is a viable resource New York can harness for generations to come.”

Initially, a number of Long Island inhabitants raised concerns about the transmission line passing through their neighborhood, citing environmental and visual issues. In a legal case, four individuals claimed that digging trenches under roads would cause the spread of polluted groundwater. However, in July, a judge dismissed their lawsuit.

The project has successfully addressed concerns raised by fishermen and environmental activists. Fishermen expressed their dissatisfaction with the compensation they received for the loss of their fishing areas. The organization Save The Bay argued against placing the energy project in an area with a high abundance of fish.

The project was supported by business organizations and construction trade unions.

Offshore wind farms have been generating electricity in Europe for thirty years and in Asia more recently. The first offshore wind farm in the United States was planned for the coast of Massachusetts under the name Cape Wind. The application was presented to the federal government in 2001 but ultimately did not come to fruition due to years of opposition and legal disputes at the local level.

In 2016, the turbines on Block Island in Rhode Island were activated. However, as there are only five of them, it does not qualify as a wind farm on a commercial scale.

At the moment, there are two offshore wind farms being built in the United States: South Fork Wind and Vineyard Wind. Vineyard Wind is expected to have 62 turbines and will be located 15 miles (24 kilometers) off the coast of Massachusetts. According to the developer, it has not yet begun producing power, and they are currently in the process of installing and testing five turbines.

Blades and large tower sections for the South Fork project are currently organized at State Pier in New London, Connecticut, awaiting departure for installation at sea in the upcoming weeks. The nacelles, which encase the turbines’ generators, are also present.

On Monday, a vessel containing three blades and a nacelle for the third turbine departed from the harbor. Jeff Martin from Eversource expressed his delight in witnessing the industry’s progress from idea to reality in the United States, contributing to the effort of decreasing the country’s reliance on non-renewable resources.

Martin, the director of business development for Eversource’s offshore wind group, expressed that they are finally making progress to align with global efforts and contribute towards combating climate change.

Large, ocean-based wind farms are a linchpin of government plans to shift to renewable energy in populous East Coast states with limited land for wind turbines or solar arrays. The Biden administration aims to power 10 million homes with offshore wind by 2030 and establish a carbon-free electric grid five years later.

The industry has faced challenges in recent times. Ørsted has declared the cancellation of two major offshore wind projects in New Jersey due to issues with supply chains, increased interest rates, and a lack of desired tax credits. Developers in New England have also terminated power agreements, citing financial feasibility concerns. These setbacks for the emerging U.S. offshore wind sector put the clean energy objectives at risk.

However, some other projects are making progress. Ørsted and Eversource are collaborating on the construction of Revolution Wind, which will be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in Rhode Island and Connecticut. This 704-megawatt project is expected to provide electricity for approximately 400,000 homes. The components of the wind turbines, including tower sections, blades, and nacelles, are scheduled to be delivered to New London starting this spring.

David Hardy, Ørsted’s group executive vice president and CEO Americas, referred to South Fork and Revolution Wind as a “positive aspect in a struggling industry.”

He stated that as we prove our capability to construct this project and Revolution, individuals will recognize the true potential of offshore wind.


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