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In this Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016 photo, a car passes signs against a proposed wind turbine hanging from a neighbourhood telephone pole and tree, in North Smithfield, R.I.Charles Krupa/The Associated Press

In mid-August, the final blades were added to five giant wind turbines anchored to the sea floor near Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island.

The small project, which will begin pumping out power later his fall, won't be a big contributor to the New England power grid – it will generate just 30 megawatts of power, enough to power about 17,000 homes. But its completion marks a major milestone in North America: It is the first offshore wind farm anywhere on the continent.

For Canadian wind developers who have been trying to get offshore projects off the ground on the east and west coasts and the Great Lakes, Block Island is an inspiration, even if it is unlikely to make a substantive difference in removing roadblocks that have kept projects from coming to fruition on this side of the border.

Compared with Europe, and now China, North America has been a laggard in offshore wind. Around the world, cumulative capacity from offshore turbines tripled between 2011 and 2015, reaching 12,000 MW by the end of last year. That's more than 3,000 turbines, enough to generate power for millions of homes. Britain has by far the most offshore wind, at about 5,000 MW, followed by Germany, Denmark and China.

But there has not been a single offshore development constructed in North America until Block Island, which was built by a company based in Providence, R.I., called Deepwater Wind. (A much larger project off Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, called Cape Wind, has been in development for more than 15 years, but has yet to be built because of stiff opposition from wealthy landowners on the island.)

Block Island "certainly does represent an important milestone," said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association. "For North America to take that first step and move forward, [it] will open the door to further and future developments."

Indeed, many other offshore wind projects have now been proposed for the northeastern United States.

Mr. Hornung noted that Block Island was built at a time when governments in the region have put in place very strong climate commitments, and when the pending shutdown of coal and nuclear facilities will create a gap in the supply of electricity.

In Canada, there is far less pressure to build large new renewable energy projects, partly because we already have a much higher proportion of renewable power, thanks to abundant hydroelectricity. And electricity demand is not growing.

The main exceptions are Alberta and Saskatchewan, where governments have pledged to cut coal-powered electrical production. But there won't be any offshore wind in those land-locked provinces; onshore wind and solar will likely be the main replacement technologies.

Still, there have been several proposals for offshore wind from a handful of developers in Canada, although none are close to fruition.

For a decade, Naikun Wind Energy Group Inc. of Vancouver has been planning a project with dozens of turbines in the Hecate Strait, off Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. It has environmental approvals, and a strong wind resource, but still lacks a power-purchase contract from the provincial utility so the project is on hold.

The completion of Block Island "can only help" get things moving in Canada, said Naikun president Michael O'Connor. He remains optimistic that his project will eventually be built, particularly if liquefied natural gas plants planned for the B.C. coast come to fruition, generating demand for new electricity sources.

Mr. O'Connor noted that one benefit of all the delays is that offshore wind technology has improved and become cheaper. Bigger and more efficient turbines now mean the Naikun project can be built with fewer turbines, but still generate the same amount of power.

On the East Coast, Beothuk Energy Inc. has several offshore wind projects in the planning stages, the first of which would be a 26-turbine, 180-MW wind farm in St. George's Bay off the west coast of Newfoundland. Boethuk CEO Kirby Mercer said it could be up and running by 2021. Other projects are planned for Newfoundland's south coast, the southwest end of Nova Scotia, and off New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, with an eye to exporting power to the United States.

On the Great Lakes, plans to build offshore wind farms were killed in 2011 when the Ontario government put a moratorium on development as the province headed into an election. There has been a flurry of messy litigation as a result of the moratorium.

Trillium Power Wind Corp., which was about to sign a financing arrangement for a wind farm in Lake Ontario near Kingston, filed a lawsuit against the government that is still before the courts. Windstream Energy LLC, which also had a project planned near Kingston and had already obtained a contract from the power authority, filed a NAFTA claim on behalf of its American investors. An arbitration hearing took place in February but a decision hasn't yet been reached.

Trillium president John Kourtoff called the Block Island project off Rhode Island "a great test bed" for offshore wind, but he also said it is a "constant reminder of how much Ontario has lost" due to its imposition of the moratorium.

If Trillium's offshore project had been allowed to go ahead, it would have been operating since last year, Mr. Kourtoff said. And it would have generated many jobs and tax revenue, he added. "Instead we have nothing other than a court case and potentially large liability to the Ontario taxpayer."

Eventually, there will be offshore wind in the Great Lakes, he said, but when eventually happens is in the hands of the government.