Opinion

DERRICK Z. JACKSON

The promise of the nation’s first offshore wind farm

The Block Island Wind Farm.

Derrick Z. Jackson

The Block Island Wind Farm.

ABOARD THE SEVEN B’s V

Paul MacDonald reached to his chest to playfully spin the blades on his lapel pin, a replica of a wind turbine. “In some parts of the country, they say ‘Drill Baby, Drill,’” MacDonald said. “Here, it’s Turn Baby Turn, Turn, Turn.’”

MacDonald is a longtime lobbyist for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 99, in Cranston, R.I. He worked the State House hallways in Providence for years to build support for America’s first offshore wind farm, which began producing electricity to the nation’s power grid on Monday. His reward was a recent cruise out from Narragansett with a union-sponsored camera crew making a promotional documentary on the promise of offshore wind.

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As we approached the five turbines, which are 600 feet high, MacDonald’s wonder grew bigger and bigger. So did mine. As someone who toured a 111-turbine, 400 megawatt project in Danish waters three years ago, I was just as much in awe of the skyscraper height of the mere five turbines in Rhode Island.

“It’s a magnificent day,” MacDonald said. “The joke in the State House was whether I’d live long enough to see this.”

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Two years after the infamous collapse of Cape Wind and its 130-turbine project in Nantucket Sound, a much more humble US entry into offshore wind is still a towering source of optimism for joining an industry that has more than 3,300 turbines spinning in European waters.

Deepwater Wind, developer of the Block Island Wind Farm as well as some of Europe’s biggest offshore companies, holds leases on the ocean that could host hundreds of turbines a dozen miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. The state of Massachusetts has committed to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind by 2027.

“I’m sure this industry could mean hundreds of jobs for our workers,” said Mike Daley, business manager for IBEW 99. He said there were between 30 and 40 electrical workers on the Block Island project for about six months, with wages and benefits amounting to $60 an hour. Deepwater Wind says that in total, more than 300 local workers were involved in the project that will supply most of Block Island’s electricity.

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“You could lose your mind thinking about the possibilities,” Daley said. Finally, the possibilities are real. Offshore wind is about to turn baby turn.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.
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