The Block Island Wind Farm, the first offshore wind turbine in the U.S., is a humble first step in President Barack Obama's grand plan to lead the world in wind-produced electricity.
The newly-installed wind turbines, about three miles off the coast, will generate 30 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power 17,000 homes in Rhode Island.
It doesn't sound like a lot, but the White House says its importance is in what it represents -- a transition to clean, renewable energy sources, and a commitment to generate 86 gigawatts of electricity by 2050. For context, that much wind energy could power 23 million American homes, reports Inhabitat.com.
It would also help the U.S. honor its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris climate agreement, and put the U.S. ahead of Europe as the world's major producer of wind-based energy, according to the White House.
“The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy,” Obama said, according to eastern Iowa's The Gazette.
Obama made those remarks on Earth Day in 2014, addressing a small group of people at a wind turbine factory in Iowa where workers build the towers that will eventually dot America's seaboards.
“America can be that nation," he told the crowd at the Iowa factory. "America must be that nation.”
Not everyone is happy about the prospects of offshore wind farms. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who styles himself as an environmental activist, famously opposed a wind turbine project off the coast of Cape Cod a decade ago. Explaining his position in a much-criticized op-ed in The New York Times, Kennedy declared himself an environmentalist and supporter of wind power, but argued that "some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development."
The Kennedy family's famous "compound" sits on six acres of waterfront in Cape Cod, and Kennedy's opposition was a classic case of the "not in my backyard" argument that has defeated previous attempts at establishing wind farms off the U.S. coast.
Dan Simmons, vice president for policy at the oil industry-backed Institute for Energy Research, told The Hill that he doesn't believe the government should be pushing the nascent wind energy industry.
“There could be a place for offshore wind,” Simmons said. “But let’s let people figure out where that is, without the subsidies and mandates that we are currently giving certain sources of generation. Because it could be that there are places where offshore wind could make sense.”
Others say clean energy plans aren't optional, they're necessary.
“If we really are going to avoid these nasty impacts of climate change that are happening much faster than we expected, we probably need to get much more quickly to 100 percent renewables," said Timmons Roberts, an environmental studies professor at Brown University. "So I think we’ve really got to scale this up pretty fast.”