Guest opinion: Conservation is a B.I. tradition

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 3:00pm

Block Island has some of America’s best breezes, a natural resource that has lured sailors for generations. Now, after years of careful planning, community input and wildlife research, Block Island is on the verge of harnessing that resource with offshore wind energy.

Block Island has a lot to be proud of. Despite the inevitable temptations of development that so many coastal communities have succumbed to, Block Islanders found within themselves the willpower to resist the temporary profit that may have come from exploiting their Atlantic gem. Decades ago, at a pivotal point in the island’s history, Block Island chose to collaborate with conservation organizations and government agencies on and off the island to pursue a different path — one that placed a higher value on the long-term quality of life for the community overall. And it shows.

The fact that today 44 percent of the island is designated for conservation really sets Block Island apart, providing that unique character that locals cherish and visitors value. Block Islanders and their guests can enjoy this brilliant balance of built and natural environments because years ago they chose to act with foresight.

Today, this community that models stewardship and forward-thinking faces the immense and expensive challenge of meeting its energy needs. Rising prices, a remote location, outdated infrastructure, and growing power demands combine to create some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Block Island’s current power system hardly aligns with the environmental principles that have shaped the history of the island and inspired the pride of the community.

The Block Island Wind Farm proposal for five wind turbines off the island’s southeast shore offers a solution — and it’s one worthy of celebrating. Not only will the project cut Block Island’s electricity costs by roughly 40 percent, it will replace the need for expensive, dirty power that contaminates wildlife habitats, creates local air pollution and contributes to climate change. Producing significant amounts of clean electricity right off our shores will also open the door for a gradual shift to electric cars and scooters on the island, offering an unmatched opportunity to alleviate the burden of high gas prices and improve air quality during the island’s most crowded times.

Decades ago, Block Island’s leaders decided to preserve space, and now today’s leaders face a decision about how to protect that space. As climate change threatens our coastlines with rising seas and stronger storms, and a reliance on dirty energy contaminates our air and our water, now is the time for bold decisions to lead America forward in achieving a clean energy future. Block Islanders have an opportunity to lead the nation in our pursuit of clean energy, an opportunity to continue the island’s tradition of forward-thinking decisions for the greater benefit of the community.

While 60 offshore wind projects operate worldwide, not a single one is in American waters. Once again, Block Island can be the community that sets itself apart for what it knows to be right, and inspire others to follow. To ensure that breathing clean air and sailing on clean water are always part of the Block Island experience, this is a moment to show what true stewardship looks like.

Offshore wind energy can and must be developed in an environmentally responsible manner, and Deepwater Wind’s proposed project would do just that. Moving forward with appropriately-sited clean energy projects like the Block Island Wind Farm is critical for protecting wildlife from the dangers of climate change. The National Wildlife Federation strongly supports the responsible development of offshore wind power, and encourages Block Island to take pride in leading America’s clean energy future.

Block Islanders have a chance to speak up in favor of this exciting, precedent-setting offshore wind power project at a public hearing before R.I.’s Coastal Resources Management Council on Monday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Block Island School cafeteria. For more information about offshore wind power and wildlife, visit

Catherine Bowes is a Senior Manager in the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Office.