The U.K., China, Belgium and Denmark have been leading the world in offshore wind power production, and if you’re wondering where the U.S. has been, join the club. Despite our tantalizingly long coastlines, the U.S. has no offshore wind farms, at least not yet. That’s one reason why we’ve been following the ambitious Cape Wind project so closely as it navigates a long and torturous route through the approval process and into the financing stage. At a whopping 468 megawatts, Cape Wind will be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. and it is destined to be just the first in a string of utility-scale offshore wind farms all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
In the latest development, the project has completed an important financing milestone and construction is expected to begin later this year.
Another Step Forward For Cape Wind
Cape Wind announced the financing milestone just yesterday, when it finalized the engagement of The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) to spearhead the commercial bank sector’s contributions toward development and construction costs.
Though a bit dry in terms of the news that we usually cover here at CleanTechnica, it’s noteworthy because it is one of the last major steps before shovels can hit the ground, so to speak.
With the approval, permitting and leasing processes behind it, Cape Wind has already sold more than 77 percent of its power output, in the form of power purchase agreements with National Grid and NSTAR.
Offshore Wind Farm Location, Location, Location
The major obstacle standing in the way of Cape Wind was its location, and the situation demonstrates how the ideal of locally generated clean energy can clash with other ideals, namely a pristine view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Cape Wind will be located on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod, with the aim of providing for about 3/4 of the electricity needs of the Cape and its islands.
The project was first proposed in 2001 in the early years of the Bush Administration and underwent its public comment period in 2008, but it didn’t really start taking off until April 2010 when it received conditional approval from the Interior Department under the Obama Administration.
Meanwhile, legal objections to Cape Wind wound through the courts, culminating in a January 2012 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that upheld the power purchase arrangement.
Not unsurprisingly, some of those who contributed major funding to the opposition had major skin in the energy game, most notoriously William I. Koch, younger sibling to fossil fuel industry leaders Charles and David Koch, though local residents and none other than former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney were also involved.
First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm, But Not The Last
The road to construction for offshore wind power projects like Cape Wind most likely won’t be so lengthy in the future. In 2010 the Interior Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding with ten states along the Eastern Seaboard to streamline the approval process for offshore wind farms, called the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium.
In addition to speeding up offshore lease approval, the consortium serves as a wind data and information sharing hub, based on the identification of pre-designated “wind energy areas.”
If the wind energy area concept is starting to ring a bell, you’re probably thinking of a similar Obama Administration initiative that established solar energy zones to streamlining the approval of clean energy projects on public land.
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+.