The US offshore wind industry has been soldiering on despite conflicting signals from federal policy makers, and it appears to be weathering the storm. After all, the November elections are less than three months away. Presidential administrations come and go, but key companies in the energy sector industries can stick around for generations, and a flurry of recent news indicates that the US offshore wind sector is gearing up for more clarity and confidence in the years to come.
Bigger, Taller Offshore Wind Turbines For Maryland
When the topic turns to the ups and downs of offshore wind development in the US, one factor to keep in mind is the global profile of the wind industry. The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is known for his antipathy to wind turbines, especially offshore turbines. However, that’s barely a flea bite of concern to global firms that are plowing R&D dollars into more powerful turbine technology, with an eye on more supportive markets around the globe.
Take Maryland, for example. The state is on track to receive a raft of new offshore wind turbines that are taller and more powerful than originally planned.
The new turbines will go to Ørsted’s proposed Skipjack Wind Farm Project off the coast of Maryland. The project has been held up due to concerns over impacts on the state’s shoreline tourist economy, specifically regarding Ocean City.
Nevertheless, last week the Maryland Public Service Commission greenlighted the new wind farm. They also give permission for Ørsted to use taller towers, in order to reach optimal higher-altitude winds. With the tourist trade in mind, the new turbines will be located farther out to sea, helping to reduce the impact on the viewscape.
Ørsted has also selected General Electric’s new Haliade-X wind turbines, which weigh in at 12 megawatts each. The original proposal only called for 8-megawatt turbines.
With more powerful turbines, the new offshore wind farm can generate the same amount of wind power with fewer turbines, so the plan now calls for reducing the number of turbines from 15 down to 12. That should also help reduce the viewscape impacts.
Salisbury Times reporter Matthew Prensky notes that the more powerful turbines should ultimately benefit ratepayers, since cutting down the number of turbines should reduce the cost of construction.
Ørsted still has some hurdles to cross before it can pound steel in the water, but meanwhile let’s note for the record that General Electric is one of those generations-old players in the energy sector that could far outlast the current administration.
How far remains to be seen. GE has been struggling to find its footing in the era of the clean energy transition, and it was all but given up for dead when it lost its place on the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2018.
GE seemed to find its footing last year, only to run headlong into the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. However, our friends over at CNBC credit the GE’s power and renewable energy divisions for some bright spots on the balance sheet this year.
Despite its troubles GE has continued to develop with new clean tech, including “space frame” turbine tower cladding among other innovations. GE announced the new Haliade-X offshore wind turbine in 2018 and pitched it as the world’s most powerful turbine of its type, so it will be interesting to see how the company’s offshore wind business fares after the November 3 elections.
More Offshore Wind Jobs For A Green COVID-19 Recovery
The construction of Skipjack will translate into more green construction jobs for Maryland, but the offshore activity is just part of the action. Onshore staging areas will also spark more green jobs growth in the offshore wind sector.
New York State, for one, has earmarked $200 million to invest in new seaport infrastructure dedicated to the offshore wind industry. The state is eyeballing a score of potential sites ringing Long Island and running up the Hudson River.
Phase 1 of the proposal solicitation process is already complete, and a decision on the location (or locations) is expected before the end of this year.
Our friends over at WickedLocalCambridge.com note that the two wind farms weigh in at a combined total of 1,600 megawatts in offshore wind energy and will directly create 2,000 to 3,000 green job years in a 10-year span.
That’s quite a wind power comeback for Massachusetts. The state hosted a decade-long back and forth legal struggle over the ill-fated 468-megawatt Cape Wind project, which finally bit the dust several years ago.
One Offshore Wind Pilot Project To Rule Them All
Rounding out the East Coast activity is Virginia, where the powerful energy company Dominion Energy has made headlines over a new offshore pilot project. Though consisting of only 12 megawatts split among two turbines, the new Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project is noteworthy for several reasons.
Dominion completed construction of CVOW back in June, making it the first offshore project in the US to be owned by a utility. It’s a safe bet that other utilities are eyeballing Dominion’s venture for inspiration.
CVOW is also the first ever project to be installed through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management process, which has many more megawatts in its pipeline. Dominion is anticipating that its navigation of the process could provide a roadmap for future projects.
Though recent federal actions appear to have gummed up the works for Vinyard Wind and other projects in the pipeline, CVOW is a done deal, and its success could help motivate policy makers to remove the roadblocks.
Dominion has also set the project up as an opportunity to demonstrate “critical permitting, design, installation, and operational experience” under the BOEM process, with an eye toward stepping up in scale for future projects.
That’s going to be a pretty big step. Dominion holds the lease on more than 2,000 megawatts in wind energy potential, in a federally managed area nearby called the Virginia Wind Energy Area.
Dominion figures that the 12-megawatt trial will set it up for achieving greater efficiencies in future projects, leading to lower costs.
That cost savings could have a ripple effect far beyond Virginia. Dominion plans to bring more than 2,600 megawatts of offshore wind into the PJM grid, which covers all or part of 13 states and Washington, DC.
Who’s Afraid Of Offshore Wind?
Dominion is figuring on a goal of 2026 to fully build out those 2,600 megawatts, if nothing gets in its way.
The company may have to wait a few more months before it can declare 2026 in full confidence. Take the Vineyard Wind project, for example. It has been in the works since 2016 and it was sailing along until BOEM threw a monkeywrench in it earlier this year. The project is still alive and kicking, but BOEM’s action could be stretching nerves among other developers.
A recent rules overhaul at the US Environmental Protection Agency has further clouded the picture. Though at first glance the new NEPA review process appears to smooth the path for offshore wind, our friends over at E&E News point out that the rule change applies primarily to pipeline and oil projects. Its application to offshore wind permits is uncertain at this time.
Nevertheless, wind activity continues apace all up and down the East coast. More than 9,000 megawatts in offshore wind have hit “advanced” milestones this year, and stakeholder confidence is showing up in the form of orders for seagoing equipment among other areas.
Its almost as if wind stakeholders are anticipating a sea change in federal policy after the November elections. Go figure.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dominion Energy.