U.S. Offshore Wind Lease Auction Set As Grid-Connected Test Turbine Is Installed In Maine

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After decades of very little progress on developing American offshore wind, things are finally happening that could see the U.S. catch up with Europe to install clean, renewable power off American shores.

Last week, the Interior Department announced the first federal offshore wind lease sale for an area 9 miles off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. To select the site, Interior had to dodge shipping lanes and migratory bird patterns, while sticking to areas with excellent wind power potential capacity. If it is developed into an offshore wind farm, the energy produced could generate 3,400 megawatts, enough to power more than 1 million homes.

Secretary Sally Jewell said, “If there is good interest in this one, then I think you will have this happening on a consistent basis.” In November, the Department announced another possible lease off the coast of Virginia, but did not set a date. The success of these auctions depends on interest from the private sector.

There are several reasons the United States has installed exactly zero offshore wind farms, whereas the industry is up and running in Europe.

Cape Wind is a planned wind farm in Massachusetts that advanced as far as any project in the country to actually putting steel in the water. It incurred almost a decade of delay following regulatory confusion over what agencies have jurisdiction, legal challenges from many different groups, and some Cape Cod residents objecting to the project for various parochial reasons.

The wind production tax credit has boosted the onshore wind industry in the U.S., but offshore wind projects are more expensive up-front. This makes a tax incentive for generated electricity less feasible for offshore projects. Investment tax credits (which take total costs into account when calculating the subsidy) could help the offshore industry get off the ground and eventually reduce the cost of an offshore wind farm. Bipartisan legislation would give a 30 percent credit for the first 3,000 megawatts from offshore wind, or about 600 turbines.

The Department of Energy has begun the development of wind energy along the Mid-Atlantic coast using a “Smart for the Start” approach designed to expedite the siting process while incorporating strong environmental protections. Maryland recently passed a bill encouraging development of offshore wind. It’s not just wind — tidal and wave energy present huge opportunities all over the American coastline.

There was, however, a recent development that has allowed the U.S. to say that it truly has “steel in the water.” Off the coast of Maine last weekend, a team led by the University of Maine deployed the nation’s first offshore floating wind turbine connected to the grid.

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They towed the first-in-the-world lightweight, durable, advanced composite concrete platform that floats in the waves 100 feet off the coast and plugged it in. The engineers will spend a month validating computer models, after which they will tow it 12 miles offshore to see how it turbine does. This will inform the production of two full-scale units scheduled to be installed in 2016.

Senate Republicans want to open the Atlantic to drilling. But with the news last Thursday that the Interior Department was not planning on allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic in the next five years, right now it appears the Gulf of Mexico will be the center of American ocean fossil fuel production. As more wind farm leases are offered off the Atlantic coast, and businesses like Google invest in offshore wind energy transmission and infrastructure, the clearer it becomes that renewable energy is the only kind of production that should happen off American shores.

Michael Conathan of the Center for American Progress spoke to the broader choice America faces between doubling down on offshore fossil fuel extraction and and the promise of kickstarting renewable wind energy production when he testified before Congress last week:

The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act of 2013 focuses on increasing energy production and, to that end, seeks to prioritize job creation exclusively in the energy field. But one cannot truly consider the potential effect of expanded oil and gas production on the economy and on employment without looking beyond just a single industry. The “all of the above” energy strategy espoused by members of both political parties and echoed from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue must mean exactly that—all sources of energy production must be included. The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act is an incomplete bill for an “all of the above” energy strategy.

The fact is, accelerating offshore oil and gas production in an attempt to create more jobs might be a fine idea if nothing else took place in our exclusive economic zone. But the ocean is a busy place, and prioritizing one industry will surely come at the expense of others.

So the first thing I would ask this committee to consider is a revision of perspective. Instead of asking how to create more oil and gas jobs, take a step back and ask how to create more good jobs in industries that rely on the ocean. The options are suddenly far stronger. …

Instead of creating offshore energy jobs by doubling down on dirty energy policies of the 20th century, we should be investing in the future: renewable energy. Shallow water offshore wind is ready for prime time in U.S. waters, and other offshore renewable technologies are right behind.

One Response to U.S. Offshore Wind Lease Auction Set As Grid-Connected Test Turbine Is Installed In Maine

  1. Leif says:

    How about this idea. The wind platform could be a ring float with a funnel center vortex and a turbine in the bottom. Shaft to above water line generator. A “Beach” skirt around the outside would lead waves over the top and fill the vortex above the sea hight there is always an outward flow. The mass of the vortex displaced water also acts as a stabilizer and by just adjusting the bouncy and thus the head hight of the exposed surface one could adjust the power to optimize wave hight. Coupled with a wind turbine one would get a two for. I do not have the knowledge to predict the power out-put of a vortex outlet with a few feet of head but watching a penny speed up in those science displays it might be significant. It would be 24/7 and all in the same direction No moving parts. The “Vortex” could even be high tech fabric I think.