Tag Archives: offshore wind

The Way the Offshore Wind Blows – 9/9/16

Workers are putting the finishing touches on the United States’ first offshore wind farm that will provide power to Block Island, a small island off the coast of Rhode Island.

Under a 20-year agreement with regional utility National Grid, the developer Deepwater Wind will receive about 24 cents per kilowatt hour for the power generated by the turbines, with guaranteed increases over time. The average Rhode Islander pays only about 18.69 cents, but Block Island is not connected to the mainland electricity grid. Without anyone willing to build a mainland connection, the islanders use a network of diesel generators susceptible to rolling blackouts as seen after a recent fire.

Block Island’s town council and residents association backed the project on promises that it would reduce reliance on diesel generators, combat climate change, and finally bring a mainland power connection, that will include fiber-optic cable to improve notoriously slow Internet speeds.

Though small compared to the 1500 MW goal of Denmark, the 30 MW project will provide enough energy to power about 17,000 homes. Its size was chosen mostly to avoid the fate of the Cape Wind project off Martha’s Vineyard, which withered under legal challenges and controversy. The project’s developers have expressed hope that a small success could set a path for more ambitious work. And they may soon see just that.

The departments of Energy and Interior are planning a joint effort to support offshore wind farms over the next five years, according to a statement. The report accompanying the statement projected that increasing the scale of the industry would help offshore wind become competitive in some areas by 2025, with a cost of less than $100 a megawatt-hour. The plan is to add as much as 86,000 MW of wind power which, in turn, would support 160,000 jobs, reduce the amount of water consumed by U.S. power plants by 5%, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8%, the Energy Department said.

A dozen commercial offshore wind leases have already been signed off on by the federal government as the Obama administration pushes clean power in its final year. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law requiring utilities to buy a combined 1,600 MW of offshore wind power in response to increasing interest in the power source. New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has also announced a plan to have half the state’s power come from renewable energy sources by 2030, much of which could wind up coming from offshore wind.  Deepwater Wind, the company behind the Block Island project is already proposing 15-turbine wind farm off the eastern coast of Long Island as part of its long-term plan to supply parts of New York and Massachusetts.

New York’s Offshore Wind Experiment – 6/23/16

New York State is stepping up efforts to reduce the cost of offshore wind farms by developing a 127-square-mile site in the Atlantic Ocean and guaranteeing a buyer for electricity generated.

As of the first quarter of 2015, the U.S. had less than a 1 MW of offshore wind capacity compared to 5000 MW for the United Kingdom. The vast difference in capacity has a straightforward answer: the U.S. has a lot more substitute sources of clean energy. Difficulty acquiring cheap, viable land made offshore wind power popular in the U.K., but most states in the U.S. are not so densely packed that they cannot use land-based turbines or solar panels. As a result, offshore wind proponents are focusing on the crowded Eastern seaboard where conditions are most favorable.

New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority is bidding on the site because New York officials are aiming to have the state draw 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030.

“This is a resource that has to be, and will be, developed,” John B. Rhodes, president and chief executive of the New York State authority, said in an interview Friday. “It is our job to do it as surefootedly and cost efficiently as possible.”

If New York officials are able to line up a buyer in advance, developers would be would not have the risk of utilities refusing their output. And if the project succeeds it would set a good precedent for future projects driving down the costs of everything from financing to legal risks.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to auction off the site by the end of the year. The area is large enough to accommodate 900 MW worth of turbines and is located 11 miles off the coast of Long Island.

The first wind farm in U.S. waters, a 30 MW project off the coast of Rhode Island, is scheduled to come online by the end of the year.


Wind and Solar on the East Coast – 5/24/16

Renewable energy is growing in popularity thanks to falling costs and increasing concern over the effects of climate change. As a result, legislators on the East Coast are tackling the issues of how to develop and integrate new sources of power while balancing the interests of constituents, utilities, and developers.

In New York, legislators had an easy pass on what has been a contentious issue in other states after utilities and solar companies worked together to shape net metering policy. The two industries often come into conflict over how owners of rooftop PV panel are compensated for the excess electricity they send back to the grid because of starkly opposing goals: Utilities want to avoid revenue losses from customers installing solar systems and solar companies want the incentive of lower electricity bills to help sell their product. The incompatibility of their interests has led to legislative battles in many states, which makes this show of cooperation all the more surprising.

Under the alternative to the existing net metering policy, utilities would pay less than the retail rate for solar energy, while the solar developers involved would get long-term certainty on compensation. The existing policy would stay in place until 2020 before falling periodically with solar systems guaranteed the payment rate in place at the time of installation for at least 15 years. Certainty with regard to rates is no small benefit since, in December, SolarCity left Nevada after legislators sided with utilities and payments to panel owners were cut.

Meanwhile, the offshore wind industry in the U.S. may see a boom on the Atlantic coast thanks to an energy bill requiring utilities to purchase power from offshore wind farms. The bill is expected to reach the floor of the Massachusetts legislature sometime this year, but there will plenty of debate as to how much power utilities would be forced to buy under the bill. A mandate would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and would give developers the security needed to finance large-scale farms. Of course, the issue of the state’s Republican governor, who has opposed offshore wind in the past, remains.

Offshore boom

Offshore wind energy has boomed in Europe and Asia; however, it has had less success in the U.S. where cheap natural gas and cheap land for traditional wind and solar farms make offshore wind less attractive. Despite falling costs, offshore wind energy remains one of the most expensive sources of electricity. Massachusetts is one of the few places in the U.S. with the right combination of high electricity prices, high ocean wind speeds, and densely packed populations that could make offshore wind viable.

With numerous oil, coal and nuclear power plants to close over the next four years, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) has pushed for increased hydro electricity use over wind. The governor previously opposed the Cape Wind project, which is now stalled off of the coast of Cape Cod, as an uneconomical eyesore. The governor’s energy secretary said during a speech in March that any decision would depend on cost projections for Massachusetts offshore wind projects.

A recent study by the University of Delaware, concluded that building costs may decline as much as 55% by 2030, allowing developers to offer rates competitive with market prices if their projects are large enough for economies of scale to take effect. And, for their part, new developers plan to build further away from the coast to ensure the wind farms won’t be visible from land. Still, it’s anyone’s guess how the bill will fare in the end.