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.
Every five years, the federal government is required by law to update its leasing program for offshore oil and natural gas development. On Nov. 8, Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced the government’s proposed plan for offshore oil drilling for the next five years (2012-2017). The new plan can be summed up pretty easily—Let the oil flow. By and far, the most oil (and thus oil drilling) that exists off our coasts is off Texas and Louisiana, and most of that is in federal waters. Most coastal states have jurisdiction over offshore areas from zero to three miles from the shore. The zone between 3-200 miles is all the fed’s responsibility to regulate, permit and collect revenues from offshore oil drilling for the good of the country. This newly proposed plan would open up all the areas currently unleased in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico between 2012-2017 for oil leasing. The Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year put the kibosh on President Barack Obama’s initially proposed 5-year plan, but this new plan appears to be business as usual for Gulf oil production.
While it appears the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will be opening much of the Gulf for oil and gas development, BOEM is going to painstaking lengths to carve up the Atlantic into tiny bit-sized pieces for offshore wind farms through its Smart from the Start program. BOEM has identified some 798 square miles of ocean that might qualify for expedited offshore wind development off of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey—so long as no more areas are cut. By comparison, approximately 1,000 square miles of ocean off the west coast of Florida, and another 49,000 square miles in the Gulf are already leased for offshore oil and gas development.
More than 50,000 square miles of our oceans are already leased for oil and gas development—yet offshore wind farms are having to fight for an area less than 1/50th that size. Clearly, our nation’s energy plan is off track.
BOEM is hosting public forums through December and taking public comments on the newly proposed 5-year plan until Jan. 9—be sure to get involved and let BOEM know how unfair this proposed offshore energy plan is and how offshore wind energy is a much better investment for our nation’s future.
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