A tsumani of bad news hit the US offshore wind industry this week, bringing great joy to the friends of fossil energy. Nevertheless, glimmers of hope remain among the ashes. States along the Atlantic coast are re-calibrating their plans, and a new single-blade floating wind turbine could flip the scrip on the economic profile of offshore wind.
All The Bad News About The US Offshore Wind Industry
A dire hint of things to come occurred in August, when the Interior Department solicited bids on three wind lease areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The response was tepid, to say the least. A pair of offshore lease areas totaling 2.4 gigawatts off the coast of Texas failed to attract any bids at all, and a third lease area, off the coast of Louisiana, attracted just two bids.
The red-state political environment in both states probably didn’t help matters much, though Louisiana’s Democratic Governor, John Bel Edwards, has been pushing hard for more renewables in general and more offshore wind in particular. The state’s powerful fertilizer industry has also been stirring the green ammonia pot, which may have helped attract the two bids.
As for why the offshore wind auction totally failed in Texas, that’s a good question. The state is a case unto itself, with an outsized footprint in wind power and other renewables that belies its extremist red-state political environment.
Competition from onshore renewables may have helped to zero out interest in the Texas offshore leases, but earlier this week CleanTechnica’s Steve Hanley underscored a more ominous sign of doom for the US offshore wind industry: Leaseholders have been backing out of offshore commitments in the Northeast.
The Northeast region should be prime territory for offshore wind development, with a friendly political profile, existing port infrastructure and energy-hungry coastal cities. Nevertheless, Reuters cites inflation, high interest rates, insufficient subsidies, and a wonky supply chain as the main factors driving down investor enthusiasm.
Here’s Some Good News About Offshore Wind
On the plus side, three Northeast states seem to have been preparing for an offshore wind setback, and they have already put a plan into action.
Yesterday the Governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a new, first-of-its-kind, multi-state collaboration on offshore wind, aimed at producing economies of scale that help to cut costs.
“Through this MOU, the three states will together seek multi-state offshore wind proposals that would expand benefits for the region, capture cost reductions by developing projects at scale, and develop into viable projects,” the office of Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey explained.
If all goes according to plan, the states will join their combined offshore areas to solicit interest in up to 6,000 megawatts’ worth of offshore wind. The total would be sliced up in various ways depending on the bidders.
“By working together, we can amplify the many benefits of offshore wind for all three states, including regional economic development opportunities, healthier communities, lower energy bills, and advantages to environmental justice populations and low-income ratepayers,” said Healey.
Meanwhile, Over In New Jersey
New Jersey is another Northeast state that seems to be taking the setbacks in stride. During the Obama administration, the state’s former Republican Governor Chris Christie reportedly cemented friendly relations with fossil energy stakeholders, so it was no surprise to see New Jersey leading the anti-wind charge back then (see lots more coverage here).
However, a sea change occurred after Democratic Governor Phil Murphy took office. New Jersey has recast itself as a wind power dynamo, taking full advantage of its Delaware River seaport.
Anti-wind stakeholders have been furiously working levers of public opinion to thwart the effort, apparently with some success. Nevertheless, last summer state legislators provided a key tax break to the leading wind developer Ørsted, which should help nudge things along.
Another New Offshore Wind Farm For New Jersey
An even more positive sign emerged on October 2, when the firm Attentive Energy announced that it has filed the initial paperwork for another New Jersey offshore wind project, to the tune of up 1,342 megawatts.
“The Attentive Energy Two project, a joint venture between TotalEnergies and Corio Generation, if awarded, is expected to power more than 600,000 homes and generate $12 billion in economic activity state-wide, demonstrating our commitment to New Jersey’s mission of advancing renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and forging a local industry,” Attentive enthused in a press release.
For those of you keeping score at home, TotalEnergies is based in France and Corio is a UK firm. Attentive has set up shop in Jersey City, lending a shot of local cred to the venture.
The new wind farm would be located more than 42 miles out to sea in the area of Seaside Heights, making the turbines all but invisible from the Jersey Shore. That should help forestall any ginned-up outrage over spoiling the view, though anything could happen. Coastal residents, visitors, and developers all along the Jersey Shore have already done a great job of spoiling the onshore environment, so it’s a bit difficult to take the aesthetic argument seriously, but there you have it.
On its part, Attentive aims to tamp down on the ginning-up by softening up the opposition ahead of time. The company explains that it has been engaging with “hundreds of stakeholders” across New Jersey since 2018, in an effort to build support. That includes a wide range of organizations along the Jersey Shore, from Boys & Girls Clubs of Gloucester County and Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore to the Native American Advancement Corps, IBEW Local Union 400, and Ironworkers Local 399, among others.
To sweeten that pot, Attentive proposes to lay down up to $300 million in community investments and focus on building a Jersey-centric supply chain. The company has also launched a $30 million fisheries partnership with New Jersey’s flagship research institution, Rutgers University.
More & Better Offshore Wind Turbines
Attentive also aims to help New Jersey reclaim the renewable energy crown it once wore as the home state of Bell Labs, which launched the first iteration of the US solar industry in the 1950s.
Along with the $300 million in community commitments, Attentive proposes an addition $47 million in renewable energy partnership investments.
“These investments include a pioneering project with a cutting-edge incubator to help New Jersey-based small businesses scale their innovations, the creation of new degree programs with the State’s prominent research universities to strengthen the local research talent pipeline, and other partnerships that will cut across workforce development and community engagement to build an integrated innovation ecosystem in New Jersey,” Attentive explains.
Whether or not that includes innovative new offshore wind turbines remains to be seen, but there has been a surge of activity in that area. Among the developments to cross the CleanTechnica radar in recent days is an unusual, cost-cutting one-blade configuration for floating wind turbines introduced by the Dutch firm TouchWind.
The company claims that it has resolved the thorny problem of pitch control that has bedeviled fans of single-blade technology. The leading Japanese shipping firm Mitsui O.S.K. Lines put up a minority stake in TouchWind last month, indicating that the idea shows some promise.
Single-blade wind turbines are theoretically more efficient than the standard three-blade configuration, but they are considered to be impractical. That may continue to be the case for onshore turbines, but if TouchWind can succeed in demonstrating a workaround on water, that could help breathe new life into the US offshore wind industry.
Image: Artist rendition of new single-blade floating offshore wind turbine, courtesy of TouchWind.
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