PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Efforts to build wind farms off Rhode Island's shore are slowly moving ahead, making the state a national leader in renewable energy, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior said Tuesday.
Providence-based Deepwater Wind plans to build two offshore wind farms nearby, a five-turbine farm off Block Island and a 200-turbine, 1,000-megawatt farm between Block Island and Martha's Vineyard. In August the company was the winning bidder in the federal government's first auction of offshore wind-power leases.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the auction is tangible evidence that offshore wind projects so long in the planning stages will someday be a reality. Jewell was in Rhode Island on Tuesday to address an offshore wind conference sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association.
"This is a part of the country that is leading this effort, Rhode Island in particular," she said.
There are no offshore wind farms in the U.S., though several are being developed, including Cape Wind off Cape Cod. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also plans to auction off leases for several other offshore wind development areas, potentially including Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Virginia.
Deepwater is now seeking permits to begin construction on the larger farm and hopes to begin installing turbines in the water in 2017. Power generation would tentatively begin in 2018. Work on Deepwater's smaller Block Island farm could start next year, with operation beginning in 2015.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee and U.S. Sheldon Whitehouse also addressed the conference on Tuesday. Whitehouse says wind energy has the potential to create cleaner energy while creating good, highly skilled jobs in wind turbine manufacturing and maintenance.
"We are very excited about where we are," Whitehouse told reporters. "I think we're at the beginning of a real wind energy renaissance in Rhode Island."