New report calls for wind energy projects along the East Coast

While Connecticut’s potential for wind energy projects is deemed "modest" and none are in the works, several other East Coast states including Rhode Island have made progress toward siting wind turbines in offshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean, according to a report released Wednesday.

Wind farm projects that would generate enough energy to power 1.5 million homes have been proposed from Maine to Florida, stated the report commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation and co-sponsored by a host of environmental groups, including Environment Connecticut.

The Atlantic Ocean is well-suited to the development of wind power projects, the report states, because of wind speeds and the relatively shallow waters of the continental shelf area off the coast.

The report called for a series of state and federal government actions to jump-start the industry, noting that Europe and China are far ahead of the United States in wind farms already developed and others in the works.

Wind power is promoted as an energy source that is far superior to the burning of fossil fuel, generating none of the greenhouse gases that some scientists say contribute to climate change. Environmental issues associated with wind power can be overcome, the report states, provided that wind farms are developed with sensitivity to wildlife and habitats.

Joe Blass, field associate for Environment Connecticut, said the report only considered projects already proposed. The question of whether Long Island Sound has the right mix of wind volume, environmental conditions and other factors to support viable wind projects is unanswered, he said.

Offshore wind farm projects are typically located 20 to 30 miles from the coast, and Long Island Sound is roughly 20 miles across at its widest point.

In Rhode Island, the proposed Rhode Island South Wind Farm would generate 384 megawatts of electricity from 100 turbines in federal waters about 20 miles from the coast. That would supply about 15 percent of the state’s electricity. While the project has yet to obtain all of the permits needed, it is projected to be completed by 2014.

Further along in the regulatory process is the Block Island Wind Farm, an eight-turbine demonstration project that would be located about three miles from Block Island in state waters. It would generate about 28.8 megawatts of electricity and is expected to begin generating power by 2012 or 2013.

Rhode Island is also collaborating with Massachusetts on joint development of a wind farm in an area of Rhode Island Sound shared by both states and adjoining federal waters.

In New York state, a joint New York City-Long Island project has been proposed for federal waters off Rockaway Peninsula.

Blass said his group is "100 percent confident" that wind farms can be developed with minimal environmental impact, provided they are properly sited. The report noted that more information is still needed to determine where the best sites in the Atlantic are.

Even if no wind farms are developed in Connecticut, Blass said, the state stands to benefit if they are built offshore from other coastal states. They would allow coal-fired power plants to be taken offline, potentially resulting in improved regional air quality, and surplus power may be available from neighboring states, he said.

By Judy Benson, The Day,