Everybody, hold onto your hats. The moment we have been waiting for may have finally arrived – or, well, it’s not very far off. American offshore wind is on the horizon, figuratively and literally, and approaching fast.
American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) hosted its Offshore Windpower Conference and Exhibition in Atlantic City, NJ, last week, which brought together industry leaders, including Deepwater Wind, Cape Wind, and Dominion Virginia Power. Currently, there are 14 offshore wind projects under development, but none has yet to put a turbine foundation in the water. That’s all about to change.
“This is the year it happens,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said at the conference. “We are nine months away from the installation of our first foundations.” Deepwater’s Block Island Wind Farm, which is fully permitted and approved, will operate five wind turbines off the coast of Rhode Island.
Massachusetts-based Cape Wind plans to lay foundations in late 2015. The project, which will be the first utility-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., began development more than a decade ago. Over the years it has faced opposition from the Kennedys to the Koch brothers, at basically every stage in the process.
The project has been at the vanguard of the offshore wind movement in the U.S., meaning that it paved the way for other offshore wind projects under development, but only by jumping through all sorts of hoops. Jim Gordon, the natural gas developer who proposed Cape Wind more than a decade ago, had no idea what he was getting into. “If I knew from the very beginning that it would take 12 years and cost as much as it did, I would have had to think very long and hard about accepting that challenge,” Gordon said in 2013.
But in for a penny and in for a pound, and Cape Wind is in – and has had a series of successes recently. These include a contract with Siemens to supply the project’s wind turbines, and an agreement to use a port terminal in New Bedford, customized for offshore wind installation, as its construction base. Recent rounds of fundraising put the project on track to be fully funded later this year. Additionally, power purchase agreements with National Grid and NStar have been critical to financing the project. Through the PPAs, the two utilities have agreed to purchase 77.5 percent of the total power Cape Wind produces.
“We are on track and expect to close financing by the end of this calendar year,” Cape Wind Communications Director Mark Rodgers said. “When physical construction begins, it will be a game changer for this industry,” Rodgers added. “The benefits will be self-evident.”
And the endless legal action? Earlier this year a federal judge said, “enough with these lawsuits already.”
In Virginia, Dominion Power is developing a project backed by the Department of Energy. The project, the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project (or VOWTAP for short, sort of), plans to install two 6 MW Alstom turbines. These developments are included in Governor Terry McAuliffe’s newly announced energy plan. “Virginia is really serious about offshore wind,” McAuliffe said. With all these projects under development, perhaps Europe’s dominance in offshore wind will not last. In a 2010 study, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported that the U.S. has 4,150 GW of offshore wind capacity. Soon wind turbines will be delivering American-made energy to the American economy. Harnessing our natural resources is as American as baseball and apple pie. It’s enough to make you want to chant: U-S-A! U-S-A!