According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, offshore wind is the second most expensive electricity generating technology, but that is not stopping the Department of Energy (DOE) from providing $141 million in new subsidies for offshore wind. DOE will provide up to $47 million each to three offshore wind power projects over the next four years to pioneer “innovative” technology.[i] The projects are off the coasts of New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia. Due to its cost, maintenance uncertainties, and sight pollution, there are currently no operational offshore wind farms in North American waters. The Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts has been stalled for precisely these reasons.
EIA indicates that the cost of a new offshore wind turbine averages 20.41 cents per kilowatt hour and could be as high as 27.1 cents per kilowatt hour. The average cost is over 3 times the cost of a new natural gas combined cycle unit, according to EIA.
DOE’s Offshore Wind Projects
The 3 projects are:
- Fisherman’s Energy project off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., chosen for its inexpensive foundation.
- Principle Power’s project near Coos Bay, Oregon, chosen because it will sit on a semi-submersible base in deep water.
- Dominion Virginia Power’s project off the coast of Virginia Beach, Va., chosen because of its unique, U.S.-built foundation.
The goal is to have the three projects up and running by 2017.[ii]
New Jersey’s project will consist of five 5-megawatt wind turbines about three miles off the coast of Atlantic City. The turbines will be installed using a new “twisted jacket” foundation supposedly lowering costs due to its ease of manufacturing. According to the Energy Department, the foundation is a trussed structure, like a radio tower, consisting of three legs that twist around a central column. The turbines are also expected to serve as a research lab for studying the interaction of offshore wind turbines. However, the Atlantic City wind farm project has yet to win the approval of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.[iii] Over the past several months, the N. J. Board of Public Utilities has twice denied bids by Fishermen’s Energy to participate in a state program that would obligate electric utilities to buy power from the wind farm. Consumer bills would go up because the electric utilities that purchase the power would pass those high costs onto the electricity consumer.
Oregon’s project will use a new type of semi-submersible foundation called WindFloat. It will consist of five 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines in water more than 1,000 feet deep, about 18 miles out from Coos Bay. WindFloat was designed for ease of installation where it can be assembled on shore and towed out to sea. The foundation sits partly under water and partly above water; it is a triangular, three-column foundation moored to the sea floor with a system of lines and anchors. The turbine is located on one of the three columns and the other two are for stability. The challenge is to anchor it in one place, in deep water. According to DOE, over 60 percent of U.S. offshore wind resources are in deep waters beyond the reach of conventional fixed-bottom foundations.
Virginia’s project is focused on a hurricane-resilient turbine design, in order to demonstrate that the East Coast’s storm vulnerability need not interfere with its wind power potential. It will consist of two 6-megawatt turbines[iv] about 26 miles out from Virginia Beach, using the twisted jacket foundation. Since its location is relatively far from shore, it will serve as a test bed for developing best practices in terms of installation, operation and maintenance. Dominion has hopes of building more offshore wind projects. Last September, Dominion won the Department of Interior’s second offshore wind area competitive lease sale, bidding $1.6 million for 112,800 acres of offshore Virginia property.
All three projects will use direct-drive turbines—a relatively new technology replacing the standard gearbox configuration that reduces the number of moving parts in the turbine. All of the turbines in the three projects will have very large blades that almost top the length of a football field.
The Cape Wind Fiasco
Cape Wind was the first offshore wind project to be proposed in the United States. It was proposed in 2001 and has yet to begin construction. Cape Wind, if built, is expected to be a 468-megawatt wind farm consisting of 130 turbines, each with a maximum capacity of 3.6 megawatts, standing 440 feet tall in the Nantucket Sound and covering 25 square miles.[v] The project was estimated to cost $2.5 billion, or over $5,300 per kilowatt. Under the original contract specifications with National Grid, the state of Massachusetts’ largest electric utility, electricity from Cape Wind would start at 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour and then increase annually by 3.5 percent in a 15-year deal, ending up more than 50 percent higher than EIA’s average offshore wind estimate. The starting price of 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour is twice what the utility pays for power from fossil fuels. National Grid had plans to purchase just half the power that Cape Wind would generate. The state’s second largest utility, NStar, was not interested in purchasing power from Cape Wind because it can purchase renewable energy elsewhere for less and still satisfy the state’s Green Communities Act[vi] and the state’s mandate of obtaining 15 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2020.
The Cape Wind project has been opposed by organizations and individuals citing the following problems: hurting ocean views from homes and beaches, lowering property values, hurting the fishing and yachting industries and marine life, being too close to shipping lanes, privatizing of public property, and ruining the ancient religious rituals of the Wampanoag Indian tribes.[vii] Alternative energy proponents are beginning to find that when it comes to energy projects, there is a lot of “NIMBYism” (not in my back yard).
Offshore wind is an expensive electric generating technology as EIA reports. Cape Wind, for example, was proposed 13 years ago, has yet to be constructed, and is still facing opposition. The DOE funding for these 3 projects seems to be another DOE Solyndra–just a waste of taxpayer dollars for a source of electricity that is expensively unnecessary.
[i] The Hill, DOE gives offshore wind projects up to $141 million, May 7, 2014, http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/205493-doe-gives-offshore-wind-projects-up-to-141-million
[ii] Clean Technica, Your Tax Dollars at Work: $141 Mil to Spark US Offshore Wind Revolution, http://cleantechnica.com/2014/05/08/tax-dollars-work-141-mil-spark-us-offshore-wind-revolution/
[iii] EE News, Troubled N.J. pilot project wins millions in federal funding, May 8, 2014, http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/stories/1059999217
[iv] Market Watch, Dominion Awarded $47 Million by DOE for Offshore Wind Turbine Demonstration Project, May 7, 2014, http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dominion-awarded-47-million-by-doe-for-offshore-wind-turbine-demonstration-project-2014-05-07?reflink=MW_news_stmp
[v] Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Cape Wind, http://www.boem.gov/Cape-Wind/
[vii]Associated Press, Wanted: Buyer for controversial Cape Wind energy, December 19, 2010, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/12/19/national/a081715S27.DTL