The United States may lag behind Europe and China when it comes to building offshore wind farms and connecting them to the grid, but there’s one aspect of the industry we remain very competitive in – announcing prospective projects.
While the installed total capacity of offshore wind is now over 7,000 megawatts (MW) worldwide, America still hasn’t been able to get steel in the water beyond test-sized or demonstration turbines.
But fast on the heels of good legal news for the oft-delayed Cape Wind project, offshore wind announcements in three states across the US hint at the potential for turbines to be spinning in American waters in the near future.
Let’s start with the most mature project, the 30MW proposed Block Island. Offshore wind firm Deepwater Wind won the rights to develop 164,750 acres off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the Interior Department’s first competitive offshore wind lease sale last year, in what could eventually become a massive 1,000MW-capacity wind farm.
Since then, Deepwater Wind has estimated the project will generate $100 million in economic activity and signed an agreement with Alstom to install the largest offshore wind turbines available today, and has started to clear regulatory hurdles standing in the way of beginning construction.
The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council subcommittee approved the project 5-0, sending it to the full council for a vote as early as mid-May, and the state Division of Public Utilities and Carriers has approved a $9.5 million sale of Block Island transmission facilities to regional utility National Grid.
Under the deal, National Grid will construct and own infrastructure to link the project to the mainland grid including a 20-mile submarine electric cable and a coastal substation and switchyard, as well as purchase assets including ocean floor rights-of-way and state easements.
From Onshore Wind Leader to Offshore Wind Upstart?
We already know Texas is America’s unquestioned leader in onshore wind, most recently setting a new wind energy generation record spurred on by transmission system improvements, but an under-the-radar announcement may position the Lone Star state to dominate offshore wind too.
The Texas Emerging Technology Fund last week awarded $2.2 million to the Texas A&M University (TAMU) Wind Energy Center to help researchers from four in-state universities to develop offshore wind technology and bring it to market.
Under the award, TAMU will coordinate offshore wind research among four schools: the Texas Tech University National Wind Resource Center, University of Texas at Austin Center for Electromechanics, TAMU-Corpus Christie Blucher Institute, and University of Texas at Brownsville Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences.
“Texas leads the nation in wind energy production, generating more wind power than all but five nations, and this investment will support an important collaboration between our universities and the growth of our offshore wind capabilities,” said Governor Rick Perry.
will be matched with is contingent upon a $50 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy, which will be announced in early May 2014. Those funds will join $13.3 million in investment from wind industry members of the GoWind consortium and $1 million from the participating universities. If all goes as planned, the first tangible outcome of the consortium’s work could be a three-turbine, 18MW-capacity project at GoWind’s Gulf of Mexico offshore wind farm.
Offshore Wind From An Unlikely Source
Last but not least, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has published an environmental assessment of a proposed offshore wind resource assessment lease off Tybee Island, Georgia.
While this may sound like just another potential project, it’s significant for two reasons: First, while Georgia has several wind manufacturing facilities, it also has zero functioning win turbines of its own. Second, the project is being proposed by one of the country’s most coal-dependent utilities.
Southern Company has proposed leasing three blocks of the Outer Continental Shelf, between 3 and 11 nautical miles offshore, to deploy a meteorological tower and buoys for five years to assess the area’s wind resources. An environmental assessment is only a first step in a long journey toward generating power from offshore wind, but it’s still important, and means the state’s power supply could soon start going just a bit greener.