The Only US Community Fully Powered by Offshore Wind

Updated: May 7

Block Island, 15 miles off the New England coast, has always been at the mercy of the four winds...

Until recently, the island's idyllic appearance and apparent tranquility was routinely disturbed by the thudding drone of enormous diesel-burning generators being carried far and wide on the breeze, the Rhode Island community’s sole source of power. No one liked it, but that was just part of island life. People got used to the noise, and those who lived near the power plant - less than half a mile from downtown - resigned themselves to frequently scrubbing soot from their windows and sills too.

But then, at precisely 5:30 a.m. on 1 May 2017, a great silence fell across the island. The generators, after roaring for 89 years, shut down. And yet electrons continued to flow.

“Suddenly you could hear the leaves rustling, the waves breaking, and the birds,” Henry duPont (a local engineer who attended the diesel shutdown) tells Smithsonian Magazine, breaking off to allow the twitter and squawk of spring migrants to speak in his stead. Residents have been enjoying the peace and quiet ever since.

Since that day, Block Island has been the only community in the United States fully powered by offshore wind: in this case, five 6-megawatt turbines. Over the coming years the Block Island venture will be joined by many more towns and cities, as up to 2,000 new turbines begin to populate utility-scale wind farms along the Atlantic Seaboard.

These projects were fast-tracked a year ago when President Biden set a national goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy on both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico by 2030. That’s enough clean power to run ten million homes while avoiding the production of 78 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.