Mussels are growing on the bases of the nation’s first offshore wind farm off Rhode Island, creating artificial reefs and bringing new fishing spots and tourism opportunities, according to wind energy advocates.
The news is promising for New Jersey, as it is poised to welcome a large wind farm about 10 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, built by the Danish firm Orsted North America. Orsted already runs more than 20 such facilities in European waters.
The five-windmill Block Island Wind Farm, built by Deepwater Wind, is about 3.8 miles out into the Atlantic from the island.
It has opened up new economic opportunities, said Chris Hobe, captain and owner of Fishing the World Charters, who has lived on the island since 1979.
He uses his boats full-time now to take tourists to see the windmills, he said in a news conference Wednesday organized by the American Wind Energy Association and the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind.
The two groups also released an underwater video showing the area, filled with sea life.
Hobe said seed mussels started to grow on the bases when they were installed in 2015, and within a year, full-size mussels were matted up thick on the bases, attracting fish.
“They are going to continue to grow the fisheries,” he said. “It’s become a go-to spot ... to fish, and will continue to be so.”
But commercial fishermen in New England are worried about navigating turbines to get to the fishing grounds, as more are built, the Associated Press has reported. They also have said their trawling gear has been damaged by buried power cables moving the wind farm’s energy to the mainland.
Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said the company has received no evidence from any fisherman of gear damage. “I believe that’s a complete fabrication,” he told the AP.
Deepwater Wind is in the last year of multi-year studies on changes in types and abundance of marine life around the farm before and after construction.
Preliminary results say fish and lobster numbers have remained fairly constant, said Aileen Kenney, Deepwater’s vice president for permitting and environmental affairs.
“We’re hearing anecdotally that there appears to be more fish, but we’ll have to wait for the results of the science,” she said.
Similar artificial reefs have formed on European wind farms, according to a study by Kaela Slavik at the Helmholtz Centre for Materials and Coastal Research in Germany.
Boats can travel in and around the Block Island Wind Farm without restriction, Deepwater spokeswoman Meaghan Wims said. She said both recreational and commercial fishing happen around the farm.
New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts have recently taken action to promote wind energy.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently signed an executive order to implement the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act of 2010, which Gov. Chris Christie had allowed to languish.
The law creates ratepayer financing of wind-field development through an Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit program.
Orsted North America, formerly called Dong Energy, holds a lease to develop Ocean Wind, a project with the potential to generate 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind about 10 miles off Atlantic City.
That’s enough to supply energy for 500,000 homes, Orsted President Thomas Brostrom said. It is on track to open between 2020 and 2025 if renewable energy credits are in place, he has said.
A second major wind development off New Jersey is planned for 183,353 acres leased by U.S. Wind Inc.. A small, 24-megawatt offshore wind project by Fishermen’s Energy failed to meet federal government deadlines to get funding. Its cost of providing energy was deemed too high by New Jersey officials.
The Block Island Wind Farm has been generating power for about a year, and electricity rates have fallen while tourism to the island is up, said Nancy Sopko, director of offshore wind and federal legislative affairs for AWEA.
The island also has high-speed internet for the first time, thanks to the windmills, she said.
“It has been a boon to the community,” Sopko said. “It’s a success story that can be replicated along the coastline.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.