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Power the next wave of renewable energy

Offshore wind farm

Everyone wants renewable, sustainable power generation, but almost no one wants it in his or her own neighborhood. So, when Rhode Island decided to work toward becoming home to the country’s first offshore wind farm, it turned to the collective wisdom of 60 URI scientists, engineers and graduate students to help find a location with the least possible negative impact on people, animals, the environment, and the seafloor.

It’s still a long way off (which means lots of opportunity for students to be involved), but once it’s up and running, the wind farm will help reduce the state’s carbon footprint while meeting at least 15 percent of its energy needs.

URI is now at the center of a collaboration with other Ocean state and federal agencies to provide the scientific basis for the project, which we call Ocean SAMP (Special Area Management Plan). Led by the URI Graduate School of Oceanography and Department of Ocean Engineering, the project involves an interdisciplinary team of faculty, scientists, and graduate students studying the geology of the seafloor, as well as wind, wave, and storm surges, the fish and birds and other wildlife that live and feed in the area, the recreational and commercial uses of local waters, the possible effects on cultural and historic resources, and more. At the end of a 24-month study, our team made recommendations to the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council for the technologies needed to make the wind farm successful and the best locations for minimal negative impact on people, animals and the environment.

“I think more research was done in Rhode Island Sound in that 24-month period than in the previous 25 years,” said Malcolm Spaulding, a professor of ocean engineering and a senior adviser to the project. It cost $10 million to study the 1,467 square miles of Rhode Island’s coastal waters, but it would have cost much more if the research  had been done by consultants.

No other state considering offshore wind development has taken such an innovative approach to offshore wind power, and Rhode Island and URI have received a great deal of positive attention for it. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar said at a press conference that other states should learn from the work of the URI team.

Many of the research projects initiated by the Ocean SAMP have been turned over to students at the state’s flagship university – that’s us – who continue to monitor and study the region and expand upon the initial studies. It’s an opportunity for cross-discipline, hands-on research that is causing ripples far from Rhode Island’s shore. It’s still a long way off, but once it’s up and running, the wind farm will help reduce the state’s carbon footprint while meeting at least 15 percent of its energy needs.

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