Things sure are happening fast around the US offshore wind power scene. Up until last week it looked like wind development along the Pacific coast would be a long time coming. Well, that was then. All of a sudden, no less than 14 companies are duking it out for the right to power up wind farms in the waters to the west of California.
To ice the offshore wind power cake, earlier this month the federal agency overseeing the offshore free-for-all advised stakeholders that the US has joined forces with The Netherlands and several other nations to accelerate the global offshore industry.
Wait — what?
Offshore Wind Farms For California, Finally
CleanTechnica has spilled a lot of ink over the idea that Pacific coast wind development is a tough row to hoe. You can’t pound turbines into the ocean floor because the water is too deep. The alternative is to float your turbines on the surface, and that’s a monumental technological challenge of epic proportions.
But, not an impossible one. The US Department of Energy has been on the prowl for “game-changing” designs for wind turbines that float, and California advocates are already tallying up thousands of potential new jobs.
Elsewhere, the France-based Floatgen project is well under way, so there’s that.
Floating Offshore Wind Turbines On The Way
With offshore lease activity along the Atlantic coast now well in hand, the Trump administration is now turning its attention to the Pacific coast. I know, right? Weird! The Commander-in-Chief* has repeatedly warned against wind turbines but it appears that his warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
Where were we? Oh, right. The Department of the Interior is the agency responsible for issuing leases for offshore energy activity, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Last fall, BOEM tested the waters for interest in developing Call Areas located off the coast of central and northern California for wind energy.
The comment period closed in January with 199 pages of comments, including submissions from Castle Wind, Equinor, and other industry stakeholders.
Interestingly, the Call Areas include Humboldt Bay, where the newly minted Redwood Coast Energy Authority is pushing the envelope on offshore wind.
According to Bloomberg, a total of 14 wind companies answered BOEM’s call.
Onward & Upward For Floating Wind Turbines
Don’t hold your breath. Collectively, the companies foresee 2025 as the earliest date that any of their ideas would take concrete form and start pumping out kilowatt hours.
Meanwhile, let’s circle back to that thing about a federal agency — aka BOEM — hooking up with The Netherlands.
For those of you new to the topic, The Netherlands is one of those tiny spots on the globe that have beaten the US to the offshore wind energy punch (Scotland is another good example).
It looks like the US is tired of playing second fiddle and will settle for sharing first chair. Earlier this month, BOEM announced that “global offshore wind cooperation took a leap forward” with the first ever meeting of the newly minted Global Offshore Wind Regulators Forum.
Hosted by BOEM in New York, the attendees included regulators from nine countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, the United Kingdom and US. Here’s the rundown from BOEM:
…The group discussed many topics, including offshore wind planning, leasing, and oversight. After yesterday’s successful meeting, the forum intends to meet annually, with the next gathering to take place in Denmark in 2020.
Ya don’t say! BOEM also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with The Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation “to further strengthen bilateral cooperation on offshore wind.” Here’s more on that:
Recognizing the important role offshore wind plays in both jurisdictions, the MOU reinforces each country’s commitment to share information, experiences, and best practices regarding offshore wind.
Circling back around to the new Call Areas in the Pacific, that thing about global cooperation is a key issue, considering the starring role that overseas companies have played in snapping up offshore wind leases along the Atlantic coast (with encouragement from the US Department of Energy btw).
Why The Netherlands?
Oh…my. That thing with The Netherlands is a big deal. A couple of weeks ago, at an industry conference in New York, a representative from The Netherlands presented the country’s case for massive offshore wind development, over and above what its grid can absorb. Interesting! CleanTechnica attended the conference and we are reaching out to BOEM for some insights on that score, so stay tuned for more.
Meanwhile, BOEM notes that formal cooperation with The Netherlands on offshore wind predates the current federal administration by a year or so.
What About Natural Gas?
Yes, what about it? The US oil and gas fracking boom is the 800-pound gorilla in the climate change room. A flood of cheap natural gas kickstarted the death of coal power plants here in the US, but the environmental consequences are piling up.
Well, turnabout is fair play. Earlier this week, CleanTechnica noted that regulators in Indiana ixnayed Vectren Energy’s plans for an 800 megawatt natural gas power plant that was supposed to take the place of three retiring coal plants.
The regulators ordered Vectren to go back and take a look at innovative alternatives and new partnerships. Though not in so many words they meant stuff like renewables, energy storage, distributed energy resources, and long distance transmission.
Indiana has a pretty decent onshore wind profile, and it also has access to wind resources through two grid interconnections, PJM and MISO. Just saying.
Right around the same time, the utility Southern California Edison pre-emptively yanked plans for a new 262-megawatt gas power plant. Pending regulator approval, SCE will bank on energy storage instead.
Not just any old energy storage. SCE is planning a network of energy storage facilities highlighted by what will be the largest lithium-ion battery in the world.
Coincidence or trend? Drop us a note in the comment thread if you have any ideas about that.
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Image: Wind turbines floating offshore by Josh Bauer, NREL.
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