How Goes It? Report from Block Island About Their Offshore Wind Farm

Block Island wind farm and sheep cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

The first offshore wind farm in America began to create electric power from wind four miles off the shore of Block Island in 2016. It provides all the electricity to that island. Block Island is visible off Montauk, but as it is part of Rhode Island, not too much was in the news about it here on Long Island.

On the other hand, I followed the news about it closely, not only because I think wind power a wonderful idea, but because 50 years ago I founded The Block Island Times—the first newspaper on that island and the newspaper of record today—and spent considerable time there. Although I sold the paper 12 years after I founded it, I have followed the news on that island all these years every week in its pages. What did the islanders think of having wind turbines just offshore when they were first proposed?

Well, many were against it. The five wind turbines would disrupt fishing, some argued, and the fish would be scared away. The underwater cable would be a danger when it came under the beach and up onto the ashore, people believed. Other arguments included fears that there would be structures built on the beach where none had been before, the tourists would be scared away by the sight of these wind turbines, and the price of electricity per kilowatt would soar through the ceiling. Many people on the island they were just fine with the diesel-powered generators that provided all the power. Leave it alone. Why replace this with wind power?

And whoever heard of this Deepwater Wind company that would be doing this, others said. They never did this before. What if they went out of business?

Well, the installation went ahead anyway.

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Last summer, I read (in The Block Island Times) that the cable from the turbines to the shore had become partly exposed underwater. It was not remaining four to six feet beneath the floor of the ocean, as it was supposed to be. Shifting sands had exposed it. Now there were buoys marking the 50 or so yards where it had become exposed, warning people to stay away.

I read about a town meeting with Orsted, the Danish company that has installed wind turbines around the world and which had acquired Deepwater Wind and was now handling the Block Island operation. Yes, apparently, the original cable installation would need to be fixed, but it would take a year or more, according to estimates. They would be doing horizontal directional drilling and dealing with issues created by the bedrock. And no, it was reported, there was no danger from the exposed cable. It was very well insulated and protected. Many electric cables crisscross underwater in the northeast power grid.

As a result of all this, and considering there is now a proposal by Orsted to build a 15-turbine wind farm off Montauk, I thought to call the editor of The Block Island Times, Lars Trodson, a man I have never met, and ask him some questions. Here’s the result of that interview.

DAN: Where is the exposed cable?

LARS: It is exposed underwater but on top of the sand.

DAN: Can you see it from shore?

LARS: No. The sea offshore the beach is very shallow, so to see it, you wade out to it and there it is at your feet underwater. I’ve stood on top of it.

DAN: So it’s not dangerous?

LARS: No, it is tightly insulated. And it’s easy to stand on. It’s big.

DAN: How big?

LARS: It’s about a foot in diameter. The water is pretty clear. That’s how bathers discovered it.

DAN: Then why the buoys?

LARS: To keep boats away. An anchor might damage it. A sharp sailboat keel might damage it.

DAN: Has the installation impacted fishing?

LARS: It has. Fish are attracted to the underwater turbine platforms. It’s like they are attracted to underwater shipwrecks. The platforms swarm with fish.

DAN: Has the cost of electricity gone up or down?

LARS: Some users find it higher, some find it lower. Overall, I’d say it’s about even with what we were paying before with the diesels.

DAN: Has it affected tourism?

LARS: Tourists pay to take boat rides out to see the turbines up close. They are new attractions.

DAN: Are there new structures built on the beach where the cable comes ashore?

LARS: No. It’s all underground or under water the whole way to the electric grid inland. Except where they have to fix it.

DAN: The Block Island Times is 50 years old this year.

LARS: Yup.

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