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Clean energy island

Published May 29. 2012 4:00AM

The United States must diversify its energy resources and development of renewable energy is the gold standard. That is why a plan to build a five-turbine wind farm several miles off the coast of Block Island deserves support, particularly from islanders.

About 1 million gallons of diesel fuel is brought by trucks via ferries to Block Island annually, fueling the plant that provides the island's electricity. Not only does that create greenhouse gases, it also results in excessively high electric rates on the island.

Wind turbines, in contrast, produce no greenhouse gases and will cut electric bills by as much as half. Block Island's energy needs would be fully met with clean energy, a wonderful distinction to have.

Just 10 percent of the power generated by the spinning, 500-foot wide blades will be enough to meet the island's needs, so as part of the project an underwater cable will send electricity to the mainland. The cable will also provide redundancy, able to send power to Block Island when calm weather reduces or stops the turbines' output.

Short of some unexpected problems emerging during the permitting process, this project deserves approval. In fact, if this kind of undertaking cannot win approval, then there is little chance of the United States lowering its use of fossil fuels and achieving energy independence.

It is remarkable, in an unfortunate way, that this could be the nation's first offshore wind project. Cape Wind, a much larger wind farm proposed off Nantucket, may also be nearing approval after facing lawsuits from well-heeled shoreline opponents for more than a decade.

Opponents of Deepwater Wind's Block Island plan question whether the project will provide the promised savings. Deepwater has every incentive to deliver. It sees this as a pilot program that will prove the viability of offshore wind turbines and set the stage for construction of many more. A project that comes in well over budget and does not produce significant savings could kill those efforts.

Some residents bemoan having to see the 650-foot turbines three miles offshore. But why is that bad? These spinning, high-tech windmills would be a testament to humankind's commitment to progress without further ravishing Earth's limited resources, beautiful in their own way.

This project should cause excitement, not anxiety.

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