The U.S. Department of Energy has just issued a first round of funding to develop seven new demonstration offshore wind power projects in Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. The initial grants of $4 million for each project will cover engineering, design, and permitting costs. If all goes well in Congress (nudge, nudge), after a review, only three will be chosen to receive an additional $47 million each, which will cover the costs of actually getting the turbines into the water. So, what do we get for all that dough?
Big Benefits from Offshore Wind Power
When you look at wind power in the context of the long-standing public subsidies for fossil, hydro, and nuclear energy production in the U.S., we get what we have always gotten: energy, and plenty of it, to power our restless economy and guarantee fuel for our restless armies.
The Department of Energy estimates that offshore wind resources alone could provide the U.S. market with more than 4,000 gigawatts (a gigawatt is one billion watts). That’s more than four times the energy production capacity we’re getting right now from all other sources combined.
Another foundational benefit of public support for energy production is direct economic activity, aka jobs. According to a new DOE offshore wind power study, the offshore wind industry alone could account for up to 200,000 jobs and more than $70 billion in annual (yes, annual) investments by 2030. In that light, a few mil in seed money from the DOE is chump change.
On top of that, we can get our hands on those 4,000 gigawatts without blowing up mountains, poisoning water supplies, or putting rural communities at risk from oil pipeline ruptures. In terms of public energy investments, what’s there to hate?
Seven Cutting-Edge Offshore Wind Projects
Just yesterday we talked about a new $4 million “superwire” for offshore wind turbines under development by a research team at the University of Houston, which is expected to significantly increase wind turbine generator efficiency and lower the cost of wind power.
Along those lines, the seven new offshore wind power grants will go to a slate of projects that focus on another key aspect of offshore wind power design, the foundations that support the wind turbines.
- Baryonyx Corporation of Texas will develop an advanced jacket foundation design as part of an integrated hurricane-resistant facility (a jacket foundation is similar to a lattice tower, but built under water).
- Fishermen’s Atlantic City Windfarm of New Jersey is forging ahead, despite Hurricane Sandy, with an advanced foundation that accommodates a low-impact installation process.
- Lake Erie Development Corporation of Ohio is working on a foundation design that can resist ice loading.
- Principle Power of Washington State plans to site its turbines off the Oregon coast, using a construction method designed to reduce installation costs.
- Statoil North America, a global company with operations in Connecticut will use floating buoys to support its wind turbines, as another cost-cutting strategy.
- The University of Maine will build turbines on concrete semi-submersible foundations rather than using conventional steel foundations, also to cut costs.
- Dominion Virginia Power will use advanced innovative “twisted jacket” foundations that cut costs by using less steel.
As a group, the seven projects will support a U.S. wind industry that is more cost-effective, creates minimal environmental impact, and absorbs natural disasters and worker safety into its business model.
The four “losing” projects, by the way, won’t necessarily disappear after the review period. They just won’t receive additional Department of Energy funding, at least not under the current schedule.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.