Earlier this year, Deepwater Wind did something no other wind energy company has done in the U.S. It began construction on an offshore wind farm. Commercial-scale wind projects aren’t uncommon overseas, especially in Europe, but wind on American waters has gone unharvested. Deepwater’s Block Island wind farm, which will be located 16 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, will consist of five turbines and produce up to 30 megawatts.
Deepwater CEO Jeffery Grybowski led his company into the uncharted waters of permitting an offshore wind farm in the U.S. He came to Deepwater in 2008. His experience as a regulatory attorney was what the company was looking for as it began facing the unique challenges of being the first.
“The permitting process really didn’t exist. There are a multitude of federal and state agencies involved in permitting an offshore wind project in the U.S., and when we began in 2008, there was no real road map as to how to negotiate your way through that thicket of agencies with overlapping jurisdiction,” said Grybowski.
Deepwater worked with all of the agencies and stakeholders at the same time. Engaging with the public was a major part of resolving differences.
“It was not just an opportunity for Deepwater to explain offshore wind to stakeholders, but for us to understand from the stakeholders what was important to them. … It really was a two-way dialog,” he said.
Because of the work Deepwater did, the permitting process will be clearer for all future offshore wind farms, Grybowski said.
Choosing the right spot for the project helped to minimize the impact on the surrounding area. Rhode Island was very involved in the selection of an area in federally owned waters where it would be best to build a wind farm, he said. Rather than the developer proposing a location for the project, the community was involved early on in selecting a site.
Block Island is 13 miles off of the mainland, and the project site is 16 miles off. That distance puts the future wind farm in “world-class” winds, Grybowski said. The project is additionally attractive to the community because will supply electricity for the small island and connect it to the mainland grid for the first time.
When larger, utility-scale projects come to the U.S., they will first come to the Northeast because of the quality of wind, which is better than any other coastal area in the country, he said. Unlike the Block Island wind farm, utility-scale projects will be located farther away from land, without an island nearby for support.
The Northeast markets also have a higher demand for clean energy than in other parts of the U.S. Grybowski said that, because of constraints in siting utility-scale power plants in the crowded Northeast, offshore wind is a great fit.
Grybowski sees his company’s next step as moving on from the 30-MW Block Island project and building one of the country’s first utility-scale projects with a capacity of hundreds of megawatts, serving multiple markets.
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