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Your Tax Dollars At Work: $141 Mil To Spark US Offshore Wind Revolution

If all goes well, Oregon, Virginia, and New Jersey are going to lead America’s offshore wind power revolution with three new cutting edge projects, each funded with $47 million from the Energy Department for a total of $141 million. The US offshore wind sector has been spinning its wheels for years and the Obama Administration aims to put a stop to all that lollygagging. The goal is to have the three projects up and running by 2017.

offshore wind power

Offshore wind turbine courtesy of US Department of Energy.

Cutting Edge Wind Power For New Jersey, Like It Or Not

Hmm. Well, we don’t know about Oregon and Virginia, but the New Jersey angle is rather intriguing. Governor Chris Christie has earned a reputation for monkey-wrenching New Jersey’s clean tech progress, most famously when he pulled the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap-and-trade program (an action that was apparently illegal).

The state is still signed on to the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium but the Christie Administration hasn’t exactly been busting down doors to pursue the opportunity to help kickstart the state’s wind industry. Now it looks like the Energy Department isn’t taking any chances: New Jersey is getting offshore wind whether Governor Christie likes it or not.

The state has some catching up to do, considering that major projects in the region are already in the pipeline, including the massive Cape Wind offshore wind farm in Massachusetts despite a Koch-funded campaign to knock the pins out from under it.

New Jersey’s new project will consist of five 5-megawatt wind turbine about three miles out from Atlantic City. Atlantic City itself was an early wind adopter in the state and it already has wind turbines on the grounds of its wastewater treatment plant, which have attracted the interest of tourists.

The turbines will be installed by Fishermen’s Energy using a new “twisted jacket” foundation designed with ease of manufacturing in mind, thereby lowering costs. The Energy Department describes it as a trussed structure, kind of like a radio tower, consisting of three legs that twist around a central column.

Aside from providing a live demo of the new foundation, the turbines will serve as a research lab for studying the interaction of offshore wind turbines.

Offshore Wind Power For Oregon And Virginia

The new Oregon project will use a new type of semi-submersible foundation called WindFloat, developed by the company Principle Power. Principle is tasked with installing five 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines in water more than 1,000 feet deep, about 18 miles out from Coos Bay.

As with the twisted jacket foundation, WindFloat was designed with simplicity of installation in mind, without the need for highly specialized ships. The entire thing can be assembled on shore and towed out to sea.

As for the foundation itself, the basic concept is like a ship, which sits partly under water and partly above water. The challenge is to anchor it in one place, in deep water. Principle’s solution is a triangular, three-column foundation moored to the sea floor with a system of lines and anchors. The turbine is located on one of the three columns and the other two act as ballast for stability.

According to the Energy Department, more than 60% of US offshore wind resources are in deep waters beyond the reach of conventional fixed-bottom foundations. That includes virtually all of the West Coast, so the success of the Coos Bay project should kickstart private sector interest in the deepwater wind power.

The Virginia project is focused on a hurricane-resilient turbine design, in order to demonstrate that the East Coast’s storm vulnerability need not interfere with its wind power potential. For this project, the utility Virginia Power (aka Dominion Virginia Power) will install two 6-megawatt turbines about 26 miles out from Virginia Beach, using the twisted jacket foundation.

Setting this project apart is its location relatively far from shore, so it will as a test bed for developing best practices in terms of installation, operation and maintenance.

More And Better Offshore Wind Power

All three projects are going to use direct-drive turbines. Direct drive is a relatively new technology replacing the standard gearbox configuration. One major advantage of direct drive is to reduce the number of moving parts in the turbine.


The Virginia project will use DD turbines from Alstom, the Oregon project will go for Siemens, and New Jersey will go with a company called XEMC.

As for scale, bigger is better: all of the turbines in the three projects will have blades that almost top the length of a football field.

The Energy Department also announced a couple of proposals that are promising but not quite ready for prime time, from the University of Maine and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation. These two focus on turbine foundation solutions for cold environments, such as a monopile design that reduces ice loading, so stay tuned for more news on that.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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