Offshore Wind in Hot Water?

Sea Power - Simon Mahan

Earlier this month, NRG Bluewater Wind announced its much-anticipated, Mid-Atlantic offshore wind farm proposals were being put on hold, indefinitely. While this could certainly be viewed as a setback for offshore wind development in the United States, there are a few silver linings. Namely, the hurdles identified by Bluewater Wind were not technological, social or even completely financial. In fact, the primary problem holding up offshore wind development is politics. Without stable energy policies, like an investment tax credit and predictable loan guarantees for renewable energy resources, offshore wind developers will have a more difficult time planning projects.

Offshore Wind Technology Reliability is Good and Improving

Offshore wind farms are not a new concept. Developed first in Europe in the early 1990s, wind turbines have been evaluated in the marine environment for nearly two decades. Earlier wind turbines were more susceptible to failure in a marine environment than turbines built today. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, offshore wind turbine availability (as in, the percentage of time where a turbine is not being serviced or is incapable of producing power) is around 90% and often include warranty periods to ensure power production and availability. The technology is also capitalizing on economies of scale – turbines are currently available  in 3 megawatt (MW) to 5 MW capacity with new turbines being designed for up to 15 MW. (It should be noted, the Clemson University Restoration Institute advanced drive train facility being constructed in South Carolina is designed specifically to test these larger offshore wind turbines).

Offshore Wind Proposals Enjoy Considerable Public Support

Offshore wind farms are being considered in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and here in the South. Poll after poll have shown that even if residents would face slightly higher electric bills, those same residents are highly supportive of offshore wind. For example, even though it is possibly the most contentious offshore wind project in the world, the Cape Wind project (off the coast of Massachusetts) touts a public approval rating of 87% in Massachusetts.

Offshore Wind Energy May Cost Less than New Nuclear Reactors

For the United States, where there have been no offshore wind farms installed, estimating offshore wind energy costs is difficult. Using the European experience can help, but governmental policies, transportation costs and currency exchange rates all confound a direct comparison of costs associated with existing offshore wind farms (in Europe) versus potential offshore wind farms (in the United States). Despite these difficulties, some evidence suggests offshore wind farms could deliver electricity cheaper than new nuclear power plants. While nuclear reactors are an extremely mature technology with few remaining efficiencies and cost reductions to be explored, offshore wind turbines are still a relatively young technology with many cost-savings opportunities.

Politics Trumps Progress and Clean Power

“In particular, two aspects of the project critical for success have actually gone backwards: the decisions of Congress to eliminate funding for the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program applicable to offshore wind, and the failure to extend the Federal Investment and Production Tax Credits for offshore wind which expire at the end of 2012 and which have rendered the Delaware project both unfinanceable and financially untenable for the present.” – NRG Bluewater Wind

Bluewater Wind’s ambitious offshore wind plans are only the most recent victim to stop-and-go federal energy policy.  To be sure, the stop-and-go federal policies have helped claim coal and nuclear power plants as additional victims, but this level of uncertainty disproportionately impacts innovative clean energy projects. Our elected officials need to work together to craft predictable, reasonable incentives for clean energy – especially offshore wind. With such a policy, we can harness the already existing, solid technology of offshore wind, which already has broad support, and potentially save customers (and taxpayers) money in the long run.

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The absence of required political support (subsidies) for offshore wind to attract investment is due to the fact that the US is more capitalistic country that European Countries and China, where offshore wind is flourish. The economics Law of Supply and Demand is rewording s low cost suppliers of products, services and energy. Thus encourage the competition. The offshore wind has to become competitive by cost; otherwise our capitalistic system would resist it. This we see in the cases of Cape Wind and NRG Bluewater Wind, which cannot get private financing for their startup.
On one hand our capitalistic system it is blessing of the God, which made our country the dynamo of the world. But on the other hand, in particular case of offshore wind, we are behind of the world in harvesting the source of energy, which is the only one that in the not so far future without fossil fuel would be one of the main sources of energy for the humanity.
The offshore wind is relatively young technology, therefore there are expectations that sometime and somehow the improvement to ongoing offshore wind would come up and it would become competitive with other sources of energy.
One of the major drawbacks of the existing technology is in the limitation of the depth in which wind turbines can be installed offshore. This limitation is dictated by the length of the Jack up Crane Vessels legs, which is presently about 50 meters. The offshore wind started in the shallow North Sea, where most of the installed 1,200+ wind turbines are located in the depth below 30 meters. Going further than 30 meters the cost goes up significantly.
In the US the best commercial wind is locate in the North East of Atlantic costal line and in the depth well below 30 meters. Further offshore the winds are stronger and steadier. What thus it means? For example in case of increase in wind speed from 6m/sec to 8 m/sec the wind power output would increase in cubic proportion to the change in the wind speed and would be 2.3 times greater. Thus would almost proportionally reduce the cost of electricity generated.
Recently, we at the Efficient Engineering LLC developed a breakthrough new technology by which wind turbines can be installed on the Compliant Guyed Towers along the entire continental shelf of the North East of Atlantic coastal lines in depth up to 200 meters. These turbines would generate electricity competitive with electricity generated by wind onshore.
This technology is patent pending in the US. Inquiries regarding this technology are welcomed to sbelinsky@efficientengineeringllc.com.


Comment by Sidney Belinsky on December 27, 2011 12:29 pm


I’m really not sure where the claims that offshore wind can be cost-competitive come from. Here in the UK, where we’ve put more effort behind offshore wind than most, sensible estimates for price range between £180 and £300/MWh.

There’s good empirical evidence behind that – it’s taken “renewables obligation” guarantees of over £100/MWh (in addition to the sale price of the electricity itself of £60/MWh) to secure investment in even near-shore facilities like “Humber Gateway”.


Comment by Andy Dawson on December 27, 2011 4:10 pm


The discussion surrounding the cost of wind energy versus nuclear should take a few things into account. While the cost of nuclear power might appear to be greater than wind, there are some regulatory expenses associated with nuclear that can probably be reduced. It should also be remembered that any wind energy generating capacity must be partially backed-up by conventional generating capacity to compensate for grid base load requirements.

As for offshore wind, its capital costs are almost 50% more than onshore wind installations. The more favorable wind conditions offshore are not enough to make up for the greater capital costs versus onshore wind.


Comment by slider on December 27, 2011 9:59 pm


INDUSTRIAL WIND TURBINES DO NOT PROVIDE RENEWABLE ENERGY! Not one coal or gas plant the world over has been decommissioned because of IWTs…and eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels is their raison d’etre. To quote an expert: “Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don’t go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal-or gas-fired generators (called “cycling”). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don’t, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase.” This is happening worldwide. In Colorado and Texas – Ireland and Denmark – CO2 and power plant pollution have increased since they installed wind farms:
http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_15081808
http://www.clepair.net/IerlandUdo.html
http://www.thespec.com/news/ontario/article/610422–cost-of-green-energy-40-higher-than-government-estimates
The wind industry is built on crony capitalism, it is the only way it can exist. Taxpayer money builds them and power companies are mandated to buy wind generated power at much higher rates than conventionally produced power. There is no true benefit, except to wind power companies, politicians and lobbyists. Some communities that partner with wind developers also profit, but those profits are paid for by surcharges to all other ratepayers and huge taxpayer subsidies. We need energy solutions that provide effective base load or dispatchable power. Wind turbines do neither.


Comment by Bill Heller on December 28, 2011 2:51 am


The more accurate prompt causing this drop-off in funding isn’t because of the economic slowdown and it’s certainly not because the group believes its job is done. Overbearing information is finally causing an awakening upon those well intended folks. The Bruce McPherson Infrasound and Low Frequency Noise Study is yet another data pool having significant implications. Vibratory impact from turbines can indeed have a debilitating effect on human “visceral” sensitivities. This easily translates into physical harms. Applied to Ocean sited projects, knowing the increased conductive capacity energy waves have in liquids, as compared to gases (air), tragic consequences would be dispensed upon sea mammals. The CapeWind project would rape the good intent, held important to many “Clean Power” peeps, of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Act is one of the first federal laws to protect animals for their own sake, rather than simply preventing extinction or keeping populations sustainable for harvesting. Believing otherwise, given the trend of scientific proof, will be society’s malign neglect to senseless slaughter.


Comment by Mark J Cool on December 28, 2011 5:02 am


You got me right at the beginning of this piece: “Without stable energy policies, like an investment tax credit and predictable loan guarantees for renewable energy resources, offshore wind developers will have a more difficult time planning projects.” How about the government staying out of creating mandates and favorable treatment in picking winners or losers. I believe every subsidy, tax measure, mandate or any type should be eliminated for every source of energy. Let the free market reign and energy-dense, cost effective sources will thrive, providing us with the power for our economy and anr lifestyle. If that were to happen, we would not be saddled with costly scams like ethanol, solar arrays, and industrial wind turbines. They would never compete without the social/economic engineering that special interests convince pandering politicians to put in place.


Comment by Brad Blake on December 28, 2011 8:40 am


Was this article written by the PR arm of the wind industry? The slant of it is to give more taxpayers $$$ to the hedge funds and other big money people who back these projects.
Why isn’t there any backup to their bogus claims such as “touts a public approval rating of 87% in Massachusetts.”? Who did this survey and when? The Cape Wind developers before anyone knew the cost of power would be 3X4 times the normal rate that and it will be will be passed on to ratepayers? Another major factor is the environmental damage that Cape Wind would do and they don’t even mention that. Of course coming from this source this is what you would expect.


Comment by Ed Doyle on December 28, 2011 9:12 am


@BradBlake & others:
My blog at http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2011/11/16/free-market-climate-4/ offers some perspective on what it would mean to eliminate “every subsidy.”


Comment by John D. Wilson on December 31, 2011 8:22 am


@Brad Blake: All forms of energy here in the US get some sort of federal subsidy. Nuclear energy gets loan guarantees. Carbon capture and sequestration for coal gets federal research dollars to the tune of billions of dollars. The problem with eliminating all subsidies is that fossil fuels have externalized many of their costs – particularly the costs of pollution and climate change. Without policies that place a premium on power that doesn’t cause pollution (like wind), the marketplace is already terribly distorted. Why should just one nuclear power plant (like Vogtle) get $8,300,000,000 loan guarantees, while offshore wind receives $0?


Comment by Simon Mahan on January 3, 2012 10:54 am


@Andy Dawson: Cape Wind, a US offshore wind farm project, has a contracted power purchase agreement starting out at 18.7 cents per kilowatt hour – far, far below the costs you cite for European projects. And, since this is the first project of its kind here in the US, as more projects go up, it is likely the costs for those new projects will go down. With more domestic content, better operations and maintenance activities and even with innovative ideas like the Atlantic Wind Connection (TransElect’s offshore wind “backbone” project), there are plenty of opportunities to bring the price down even more.


Comment by Simon Mahan on January 3, 2012 11:00 am


@Slider: Yes, offshore wind turbines are more expensive than onshore turbines; however, for many east coast states with limited onshore wind potential (like Delaware), offshore wind represents a great in-state renewable resource. Additionally, offshore winds tend to be more predictable, stronger and stable than onshore resources and offshore winds often occur in the afternoons (called the “sea breeze effect”) when electricity demands are sometimes the highest. We need a diverse portfolio of onshore and offshore wind.


Comment by Simon Mahan on January 3, 2012 11:03 am


@Bill Heller: Wind is an inexhaustible resource – thus, it is renewable. Already here in the U.S., some 40,000 megawatts of onshore wind farms installed. Had those wind farms not been built, some other type of power plant would have been constructed – like a coal plant or a natural gas plant. While I can’t point directly to one wind farm and say it closed down one particular coal plant, several nuclear and coal-based power plants have been cancelled in recent years, and many more coal plants are being decommissioned – wind farms can help fill those energy needs using a renewable resource without emitting pollution.


Comment by Simon Mahan on January 3, 2012 11:07 am


@”Mark J Cool” & Ed Doyle: I agree, there are some places where wind turbines can cause environmental harm and we need to support smart citing of these projects; but, there is no comparison between a wind farm and a coal or nuclear power plant – wind is the winner, hands down on health and environmental aspects.

Cape Wind had to go through two separate environmental impact statement processes – while the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig (that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last year) completed none (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/04/AR2010050404118.html).

I’d encourage you to read the 800 pages of environmental analysis on the Cape Wind project. (http://www.boemre.gov/offshore/renewableenergy/CapeWindFEIS.htm)


Comment by Simon Mahan on January 3, 2012 11:20 am


It is entirely understandable that the government wishes to subsidize old techniques. There are intricate political, social, and economic infrastructure developed and integrated into the United States that require politicians to propose entire overhauls of these systems when they speak of new renewable and environmental energy policies. In an age (one that I hope will end soon) where proposals are short term and new ideas are seen as frightening propositions that go against old values, how else can a citizen expect their country’s government to work? We cling to anachronisms because otherwise we must learn to walk a thin tight rope in a grey dim area.
I am a student of a marine science orientated public charter school. I, as well as my classmates, am well versed in new energy technology like off-shore wind farms. The technology has improved so sufficiently in the past two decades, but not at a rate that we as a nation could not have kept up with. In truth, the picture of political immobility on this topic is not understandable, but pitiable. As countless people say, every day the number of discoveries are growing exponentially. If we do not start to keep up, do we ask progress to wait? Do we stop researching and learning so that we can all slowly reach some point and then press progress’s switch back to moving? Is that what the government is doing when it cuts funding to off-shore wind projects? Why would we do this when our supplies of other energy sources dwindle right before our eyes? Clinging to old values is one thing, but drowning with them is another. Without the establishment of off-shore wind farms, we will be suffering enormous consequences. The population sees that, and, as this article states, 87% of Massachusetts’ residents in approval of the Cape Wind project comprehend it. The message of renewable energy is not lost on the citizens of the country, which makes me and my peers question why it is lost on the governments’. Funding for these off-shore wind farm projects need to be easier and larger and research needs to continue – even if the only argument accepted by the government is the basic US principle of besting other countries.


Comment by Victoria Levchenko on January 18, 2012 2:24 am


I fail to see how any environmentalist can support the building of wind farms , essentially masive industrial estates , at sea. Man is using up the earth’s resources at an alarming rate. Our oceans are already under threat from our activities. It stands to reason our seas and marine life would be better off if we left them alone as much as possible . What tortuous logic is at work here to explain how it is perfectly okay for man to invade the marine space to meet our insatiable demand for energy.? No one who is really concerned about protecting the environment could support such madness..


Comment by James O’Brien on March 19, 2012 9:11 am


Unfortunately, our oceans are not “left alone” – they are under assault from offshore oil and natural gas drilling, from oil spills, and from ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel carbon dioxide pollution. The best way to preserve our oceans is to turn to them for a solution to our fossil fuel addiction.


Comment by Simon Mahan on March 20, 2012 9:55 am


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