The nation's first offshore wind farm about four miles off the coast of Block Island celebrated its one-year anniversary Tuesday. The wind farm supplies power to nearly 2,000 customers on the island and is saving those ratepayers money. Residents say the wind turbines have positively impacted tourism, but there are some disappointments too.
Opponents of wind energy projects sometimes worry about how wind turbines will affect the ocean’s view. They argue the turbines could make a trip to the water less appealing to people.
However, that hasn't been the case for Block Island, according to the Block Island Tourism Council.
"We’ve definitely seen more people on the Island that have come just to see the wind farm, we’ve had businesses sprout up on the island, boats taking people out just to see the wind farm," Jessica Willi, executive director of the Block Island Tourism Council, said.
The recreational fishing industry has also benefited from the wind farm, according to Chris Willi, Jessica's husband and charter boat captain at Block Island Fishworks & Sandy Point Fly Leaders.
"You can’t always rely on mother nature (for the success of your business)," Chris said. "As we all know, sometimes the fishing stinks, and now you can just say, 'All right, let’s go look at this engineering marvel three miles from the island.'"
However, Jessica said although tourism has gone up, offshore wind energy companies should consider tourism more often and earlier in their development process.
After the wind farm started powering homes in May, the average customer who used 500 kilowatt hours a month saved $20 on their electric bill, according to the utility company Block Island Power. However, some residents say there's a downside to the new energy rates too.
During construction of the wind farm, it was connected to the mainland's electrical grid. National Grid, the mainland's grid operator, needed a substation on Block Island for the cables from the wind farm and mainland to connect to.
Chris Willi, who's lived on Block Island since 1992, said he believes National Grid was not transparent about the process of determining the cost for their substation.
"The initial proposal for the substation costs were somewhere around $330,000, final price tag is 2.5 million. That’s going to be borne by the ratepayers," Willi said.
Block Island Power said residents are paying five extra cents per kilowatt hour because of the increased final cost of the substation. However, the company said after six years, residents should see their electric bills go down by 20 percent.
Deepwater Wind, developers of the offshore wind farm, provided the island with access to a fiber optic cable so residents could have high-speed internet for the first time ever. However, residents still don't have that reliable internet service.
"Our school is suffocating with the lack of broadband access, our police station, our medical center," Chris Willi said. "Now, (the fiber optic cable is) sitting there because we didn't have a plan to do something with it once it got there, and we're in the process of doing that...but we could have started that process when we knew it was coming over four, five years ago."
Willi said it could cost $6-8 million to get high-speed internet service to all Block Island residents.
It could take a couple more years before everyone on the island has broadband access, according to Block Island Power.