What's holding up offshore wind energy in the US?
In June, after years of offshore wind power projects being thwarted in the United States, the first offshore wind turbine began spinning off the U.S. coast. The turbine was not a multi-megawatt, 400-foot behemoth off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Texas — all places where projects had long been proposed. Rather, the turbine was installed in Castine Harbor, Maine, rising only 60 feet in the air and featuring a 20-kilowatt capacity — enough to power only a few homes.
But it was a turbine — finally. Offshore wind power in the U.S. has struggled mightily to rise from the waves, even as other renewable energy industries have steadily grown. The country now has more than 60,000 megawatts of onshore wind, but still just the lone offshore turbine, a pilot project run in part by researchers at the University of Maine. Meanwhile, Europe has left the U.S. far behind, installing its first offshore turbine in 1991 and growing rapidly in the past decade. To date, the countries of the European Union have built 1,939 offshore turbines with 6,040 megawatts of capacity.
Is the U.S. offshore wind industry finally about to get off the ground? Offshore wind carries impressive electricity-generating potential, and several projects seem poised to get underway. But energy analysts say the industry still faces daunting hurdles, most notably the higher cost of building offshore wind farms, the expense of connecting them to the onshore grid, and the lack of the comprehensive government incentives and renewable energy targets that have been crucial in fostering the growth of Europe’s offshore wind energy sector.
On the positive side, the infamous Cape Wind project, mired in legal battles for more than a decade, hopes to start construction next year. With plans to construct 130 turbines in the shoals between Nantucket and Cape Cod, The Interior Department has completed the first of two auctions for large offshore parcels for wind development.Cape Wind has faced enormous legal struggles because of opposition from local residents concerned that the turbines would mar the region's beauty and harm seabird populations. But its legal battles are now largely behind it, and Cape Wind has power-purchase agreements in place. The wind farm's developer, Jim Gordon, says the project will eventually be capable of supplying about 75 percent of the electricity needs of Cape Cod, which has a year-round population of 215,000.
Offshore wind turbine installation image via Shutterstock.
Read more at Yale Environment360.