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Offshore wind farms are coming to the U.S., the Department of Energy (DOE) announced this month, but nobody is sure just when.
Eleven offshore wind projects have reached "an advanced stage of development," according to the 2013 U.S. Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis, published earlier this month by Navigant Consulting. The farms would collectively generate 3,824 megawatts (MW) of energy. Parties involved in the projects have all signed a power purchase agreement, received approval for an interim or commercial lease in state or federal waters, or conducted baseline or geophysical studies at a proposed site.
A map of proposed offshore wind projects in the U.S. Graphic credit: Navigant Consulting
The report shows that cost-competitiveness, regulatory processes and a lack of infrastructure—including offshore transmission and purpose-built ports and vessels—as the main deterrents to offshore development. Still, the Atlantic Wind Connection and New Jersey Energy Link are two transmission infrastructure projects that made progress in the past year, according to the report.
Though no offshore wind farms currently exist in the country, the DOE has committed more than $300 million to the development of 72 offshore wind projects. Most of the funding was approved in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, though the DOE in 2006 began issuing $2.5 million to Bowling Green State University to research and remove impediments for deploying wind turbines on Lake Erie.
Graphic credit: U.S. Department of Energy
The average size of the turbines in the advanced projects is just over 4 MW, which is larger than most that are on shore.
"This trend toward larger turbines will likely continue, driven by advancements in materials, design, processes and logistics, which allow larger components to be built with lower system costs," the report reads. "The United States is largely planning to utilize larger offshore turbines rather than smaller turbines that have previously been installed in European waters."
The DOE also released information about various wind-farm studies that agencies and universities are collaborating on, ranging from interconnection to environmental surveys and electromagnetic interference mitigation. For example, the DOE, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service and a host of private companies have been working on the Wind Forecast Improvement Project, which seeks to upgrade short-term weather forecast models for predicting foundational weather parameters that impact wind energy generation. A final report is expected by December.
Here are more key findings from Navigant:
- There are approximately 5.3 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind installations worldwide
- Offshore wind projects around the world are trending further from shore into increasingly deeper waters, leading to higher capital costs
- Approaches to drivetrain configurations continue to diversify in an effort to improve reliability and reduce exposure to volatile supplies of the rare earth metals required for direct drive generators.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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