Monday, December 21, 2009

Off Shore Wind Projects

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) held its Offshore Wind Workshop earlier this month in Boston to look at the progress that has been made for U.S. offshore wind and what hurdles are left to overcome before the first turbine hits the water.

Project Updates

But just which project will get that first turbine in the water is still a matter of speculation. In total there are four companies with more than 10 projects in different states of development. Each company — Cape Wind, Bluewater Wind, Fisherman's Energy and Deepwater Wind — is developing projects on the East Coast.

The most well-publicized and possibly controversial offshore wind project in the U.S. is Cape Wind. The project, which has spend eight years in development, would put turbines in Massachusetts' Nantucket Sound. The project had a lot of opposition to overcome, first from residents in towns on the sound worried it would ruin their views and lead to higher electricity prices, and later from environmental groups concerned with the wildlife impact. These issues have since been addressed. More recently, a group of Native Americans have said the project would obscure the view from an ancient burial ground, this issue is working its way through the regulatory process and is expected to be resolved by the end of 2009.

Not all of the news about Cape Wind has been negative however. The project was given a favorable Environmental Impact Statement from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, its grid connection in Barnstable, Massachusetts was approved by the Massachusetts Citing Board and National Grid has said that it will negotiate a power purchase agreement for the electricity the project might one day produce. Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind said that he thinks the U.S. will see an offshore wind project realized sooner rather later and its one of the keys to fighting the effects of climate change, especially for East Coast cities like Boston where trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure could be damaged or destroyed by rising seas and stronger storms that would be a result of climate change and an economy that needs to put people back to work to grow.

"Right now if Cape Wind was operating we would be producing 422 megawatts of clean renewable energy. That's 422 megawatts of emissions free power that blows off our coast that will be harnessed by workers from this region," Gordon said. "The Natural Resources Defense Council has said that Cape Wind represents one of the largest single greenhouse gas reduction initiatives in the United States. We've missed out these many years on mitigating many tons of greenhouse gases, but I believe and I hope that the American offshore wind industry is no going to emerge and reach its full potential."While Massachusetts has been the first stand of sorts for offshore wind, Delaware might be the spot of the industry's first major victory. Bluewater Wind, formerly owned by Babcock and Brown, and now a subsidiary of NRG Energy, has leases in place and is set to deploy a series of meteorological (met) towers to determine the best sites for turbines in 2010.

The company also has one 200-MW PPA in place with Delmarva Power and has been selected to provide 55 MW of power to the state of Maryland under a PPA. Bluewater CEO Peter Mandelstam said that the company has interconnection agreements in place and also begun the federal permitting process. He said the process is easier now as a result of the Obama Administration's renewable energy goals.

"The most important investor, the most important advocate and the most important public official for offshore wind is President Barack Obama. This industry was dead, but the restructuring of the tax credit, the loan guarantees, the various stimulus provisions and the new regulatory regime totally revived us. We can't say enough good things about President Barack Obama. He mentioned our Delaware project on Earth Day and going into Copenhagen, he talked about offshore as one of his six pillars to mitigating climate change," Mandelstam said.

Two other development companies, Fishermen's Energy and Deepwater Wind are taking different approaches to developing offshore wind projects. Fishermen's Energy is taking what it calls a community-based approach to offshore wind. The company was founded by leading Northeast commercial fishing companies so that they could be part of and benefit from the emerging offshore renewable energy industry. The company's CEO Dan Cohen said that commercial fishing executives knew there was a need for workers to do the construction, operations and maintenance for offshore wind projects, jobs uniquely suited to commercial fishermen who already work offshore and the know waters.

Fisherman's is involved in two projects: the first is a 350-MW project that the company plans to work on in conjunction with Bluewater Wind and Deepwater Wind. The second is demonstration project located in the waters just off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. This 20-MW project is expected to be built by 2012 and rules for the build out of this project are currently drafted by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.Deepwater Wind plans to do exactly what's implied by its name, namely build projects 15-20 miles offshore, minimizing the impact of not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) protests and taking advantage of the stronger wind regimes in those waters. The company has been awarded met tower leases and plans to put them in the water in the next year.

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