The Virginia Marise slides away from the dock into the pitch-black night. At 4 a.m., the only light comes from a flood light illuminating the deck of the boat and a handful of streetlights on land that disappear into the darkness as Captain Rodman Sykes maneuvers his boat out of the harbor, the black sky indistinguishable from the black sea.
This is a familiar scene to fishermen like Mr. Sykes. Commercial fishermen have headed out on these New England waters for some 400 years, casting their lines and nets overboard just as the sun peeks over the horizon. But at daybreak on this August morning, there’s a new sight. As the inky-black night gradually fades into the dim gray pre-dawn light, five red flashing lights appear all in a row on the horizon.
Those lights come from the five turbines making up the United States’ first offshore wind farm – the 30 megawatt Block Island Wind Farm. As the Virginia Marise draws closer, and the sky begins to blush pink, the turbines stand out on the horizon. The blades turn slowly in the slight breeze, generating electricity that flows through a cable buried in the seabed to Rhode Island’s Block Island.
The turbines and all the hardware that accompanies them spun to life in December 2016. So far, this is the only offshore wind power in the nation, and with just five turbines, it’s a small installation. But that’s soon to change. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have already selected larger projects which are set to be installed not far from the Block Island Wind Farm. And more are in the development pipeline in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.
This flurry of activity has sparked agitation among the fishermen who have long been a fixture on the Eastern seaboard. Could fields of turbines disrupt their operations and the resource on which their livelihoods depend? Meetings with developers and permitting officials have been tense and, at times, explosive. A group of fishermen have even sued the federal government for leasing a tract of seafloor south of Long Island to an offshore wind developer.
But despite the hostility, some fishermen have expressed the desire to find a way to share the seas. And that will to find common ground may be the first step toward coexistence.
“We’ve got two renewable resources. One in seafood, and one in wind,” says Eric Hansen, a Massachusetts scallop fisherman. “They shouldn’t have to compete.”