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Denmark's offshore wind leader DONG Energy is developing a gigantic offshore wind farm in the US. At 1 gigawatt (GW), the Bay State offshore wind farm is the size of a nuclear plant.

Clean Power

DONG Energy’s 1 Gigawatt Bay State Offshore Wind Farm

Denmark’s offshore wind leader DONG Energy is developing a gigantic offshore wind farm in the US. At 1 gigawatt (GW), the Bay State offshore wind farm is the size of a nuclear plant.

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Denmark’s offshore wind leader DONG Energy is developing a gigantic offshore wind farm in the US. At 1 gigawatt (GW), the Bay State offshore wind farm is the size of a nuclear plant.

Although US offshore wind started late, with this gigantic project, it leaps in a single bound to world scale offshore wind.

At 15 miles out to sea — and out of sight — from Martha’s Vineyard, the Bay State offshore wind farm will be about 100 turbines and 1,000 megawatts (MW), or 1 GW. This represents a massive scale-up from the first US offshore wind that started operations in December 2016, the Block Island Wind Farm, at 30 MW.

CleanTechnica spoke this week with Lauren Burm, spokeswoman for DONG Energy’s US wind division. The US has tremendous potential to create an industry to support offshore wind, but there are some obstacles to be overcome, Burm told CleanTechnica.

Obstacles to a US offshore wind industry

Because these two projects are the first in the US, permitting offshore wind is much more difficult than in the EU, which began offshore wind in the 1990s.

The kinds of specialized vessels needed to construct and maintain offshore wind farms have barely begun to be built, but regulation under the Jones Act restricts the vessels that would be used in offshore wind farm construction to ones that are US-built, documented, crewed and owned.

“The Jones Act means that the specialist vessels used to build offshore wind farms in Europe have limited use in the US,” Burm explained. “If we want to develop a thriving and cost effective US industry, this is an area that will definitely need some work.”

The development of offshore wind has only just begun with the Obama administration opening up the offshore leasing for the first time, so the US lags some 25 years behind the EU in the development of an offshore wind industry. This affects prices.

“The process is all very new to everyone involved,” she pointed out. “The permitting process is complex and needs the involvement of multiple agencies and many stakeholders — both at the local and state level. However, we are confident that by working closely with the different agencies and stakeholders involved, we can make the process as smooth as possible.”

Bidding for the Bay State offshore wind lease

In April, DONG Energy acquired development rights for 187,500 acres to build the approximately 100-turbine project. (The exact capacity of each turbine is not yet decided, but at 1,000 MW, 100 turbines equates to 10 MW turbines, the largest capacity just coming out of the prototype stage from both Siemens and Vestas.

DONG Energy is partnering with Eversource Energy, which will build all the onshore transmission associated with the massive Bay State wind farm.

The next step will be to offer the winning bid in utility negotiations.

“And of course we would have to be successful in the upcoming auctions held by Massachusetts,” said Burm. “We feel we are in a great position to compete and have a strong offering to electricity landscape in New England.”

That’s being modest. Denmark’s state-owned DONG Energy is a one-time oil company — Dansk Olie og NaturGas (DONG) — that turned to developing offshore wind. It built the first offshore wind farm back in 1991 and by 2014, 40% of its operating profit was coming from wind.

State-owned oil firms bring expertize to offshore wind

Two European state-owned oil firms were successfully pressured by vibrant democracies to become more socially responsible. DONG Energy and Norway’s Statoil have both transitioned their offshore oil knowledge to offshore wind development.

In addition to DONG Energy, the state-owned oil company that turned to developing offshore wind, Statoil translated its leadership in offshore oil platform design into floating platform design for offshore wind. Statoil has just won a bid for another 1 GW offshore wind site off the coast of New York.

Experience in offshore oil helps developing and building offshore wind.

Both offshore oil and offshore wind need specially-designed vessels for delivery of technicians and materials to infrastructure out at sea. Very harsh conditions at sea make simple maintenance a challenge.

Potential for lower prices in US offshore

Offshore wind is newer and larger scale technology than onshore and so for that reason, it was initially much more expensive, but as deployment increases in the North Sea, prices are dropping rapidly.

DONG Energy was able to bid the 700 MW Borssele offshore wind farm off the coast of Holland at just 8 cents per kWh. The earliest offshore wind in the EU was much more expensive.

Part of what has caused the rapid drop in prices offshore is the use of fewer and much larger turbines offshore. Larger generators are cheaper per torque than small, while many of the control and support systems are the same. The sheer scale of offshore wind is not practical onshore.

Siting wind offshore also removes some of the obstacles that prevent fully developing the potential of wind onshore. For example, permitting transmission across counties and state lines can take decades. The ocean crosses fewer jurisdictions. It is potentially a lot more straightforward to simply lay cables along the ocean floor like telecommunication cables.

Offshore wind will weather transition to Trump

Much of what made offshore wind possible in the US was regulatory groundwork in clearing away obstacles to permitting by the Obama administration, opening up the US offshore wind market with the first-ever offshore wind lease auctions by the newly enfranchised BOEM.

I asked what the effect of the Trump administration might be, given a cabinet captive to the oil industry.

“Since the individual states make their own decisions regarding the offshore wind build-out, we don’t expect the presidential election to influence these opportunities,” she said. “New England is setting the pace for a national clean energy future with its proven track record in energy efficiency and bold clean energy goals.”

Massachusetts carves out a 1.6 GW offshore wind mandate

Not only does the incoming administration not worry the firm, but DONG is investigating possibilities for constructing additional offshore wind farms in the northeastern part of the US after 2020, due to state-led interest and offshore potential, particularly off the coast of Massachusetts and New Jersey.

“In August 2016, Massachusetts formally adopted a comprehensive energy bill that includes a first-of-its-kind mandate to purchase 1,600 MW of offshore wind power over the next decade,” she explained.

“The first state-led procurement process for offshore wind will begin in June 2017. This represents a landmark moment for the offshore wind industry in the United States.”

Image Credits: DONG Energy

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