Offshore Wind Farms Closer to Becoming a Reality

By Cristian Hernandez
Boston University Washington News Service

Stephan Savoia/The Associated Press, file. A large wind turbine, similar to the 130 such devices Cape Wind Associates would like to construct on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound as America's first offshore wind farm, stands generating power next to the Hull, Mass., High School in the shadow of Boston.

WASHINGTON — Change is blowing in the wind and hundreds of thousands of people living on the coast of Massachusetts soon transform the way they power their homes and businesses.
Offshore wind farms are no longer just breezy talk. Developers and experts agree that offshore wind facilities will become a reality in the next five years as two major projects move toward fruition.
One of them, Cape Wind, could begin spreading 130 turbines across Nantucket Sound as early as next year, making it the first offshore wind farm in the United States. Eventually, the project could provide a maximum of 420 megawatts of energy at peak output.
Meanwhile, energy developer Patriot Renewables has been working since 2006 on its South Coast Wind Project that would install 90 to 120 turbines in Buzzards Bay and provide 300 megawatts of energy.
“There is huge potential for New Bedford and the SouthCoast,” said John Miller, director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center at UMass Dartmouth. “The region has the opportunity to become the center of development for marine renewable energy.”
Patriot Renewables is working on environmental studies to determine a location that will have minimal environmental impacts. Other researchers are working on a study to determine the impact of the project on birds in Buzzards Bay.
“We probably have a couple of more years of studies remaining,” said Todd Presson, director of wind energy development for Patriot Renewables. “We are always optimistic, cautiously optimistic. We don’t yet have a good handle on the ultimate size, site and other details of the project.”
Cape Wind has been inching its way to construction for eight years and is waiting for final federal approval. Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers said the developer expects a final decision in less than a month.
If approved, Cape Wind will begin construction next year and start producing energy by 2012, Rodgers said. It could provide 75 percent of the Cape’s energy needs, according to its developers. The project was started by wind developer Energy Management Inc., a company specializing in conservation and energy development.
“We are moderately confident that we will get final approval,” Rodgers said.
Cape Wind’s eight years of federal and state review highlight the industry’s challenges on environmental impacts, site decisions and the local and federal permitting process.
President Barack Obama has made it a priority to have 25 percent of the nation’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. An Interior Department report says that offshore wind farms could provide 20 percent of the electricity for coastal states, which would amount to 16 percent of the country’s total electricity needs by that time.
Right now, less than 1 percent of electricity used by Americans comes from wind, solar and geothermal energy.
Offshore wind is available near populated coasts without the need to build elaborate transmission lines; nevertheless, proposals have encountered significant local resistance. Residents cite potential declines in property values, aesthetics issues and the impact that turbines could have on animal habitats. Opposition is difficult to overcome because projects require approval from both local and state governments.
Cape Cod Wind has been navigating these hurdles, including lawsuits by local residents and opposition from politicians such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and 10th District Rep. William D. Delahunt. But Rodgers said public support for the project is growing.
Glenn Wattley is president and CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a group that was created to oppose Cape Wind.
He said wind turbines would pose a risk to airplanes, be in the way of commercial fishermen, raise electric bills and mar the scenery. He cautioned that Cape Wind is far from being a “done deal.”
Patriot Renewables, on the other hand, the South Coast Wind developer, said feedback from the public and environmental groups has been positive.
Rodgers said similar concerns were raised in Europe, which already has offshore wind farms.
Wind farms off Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom produce 1,471 megawatts of energy, according to the European Wind Energy Association.
“While concerns are understandable, track records in Europe show wind farms are good neighbors to coastal communities and represent the ability for coastal states to become much more energy independent,” Rodgers said.
Mark Forest, Delahunt’s chief of staff, said the congressman does not oppose offshore wind but thinks projects such as Cape Wind should be subjected to federal guidelines.
“We want to have rules in place to help guide the review,” he said.
Lack of federal standards is another hurdle for offshore wind. In 2005, the authority to regulate offshore renewable energy projects in ocean waters under federal jurisdiction moved from the Energy Department’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which, among other duties, manages land in the Outer Continental Shelf, where some offshore wind sites are being proposed.
Cape Wind is in federal waters, 13.8 miles off Nantucket. The South Coast Wind Project is in state waters, 1.3 miles from shore, and not subject to federal regulations.
The Minerals Management Service is working on guidelines or “memorandums of understanding” that will provide a roadmap for energy development.
“It’s now a matter of weeks for the new rules to come out,” said Walter Cruickshank, MMS deputy director, speaking at a recent conference on marine renewable energy in Washington.
The decision on Cape Wind will not be subject to the new guidelines because the project is too far advanced in development, according to Laurie Jodziewicz, a policy specialist for the American Wind Energy Association, the trade association for the industry.
Cape Wind is the first project of its kind, and the rules have developed parallel to the project.
Cost is another problem for offshore wind. Presson said that Patriot Renewables has spent well over $1 million on environmental studies alone. Cape Wind has spent $40 million on environmental studies, permits and fighting off opposition.
According to the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the cost of projects offshore is significantly higher because of higher maintenance costs and the expense of building undersea transmission lines.
Despite challenges, federal and state lawmakers are pushing hard to expand renewables.
Gov. Deval Patrick has spoken in favor of offshore wind and has begun several initiatives to push ahead on renewable energy.
The governor has said he wants the state to produce 2,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020 — enough to power 800,000 homes — 70 percent of which would come from offshore wind farms.
“With the growing interest in wind turbines we see in communities across the commonwealth and the abundant wind resource we have off our coast, wind power is going to be a centerpiece of the clean energy economy we are creating for Massachusetts,” Patrick said in a press release in January.
Lisa Capone, press secretary for the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environment, said the agency is working on a comprehensive oceans management plan that will determine the best locations for renewable energy projects in state waters. The management plan will have an impact on South Coast Wind.
“Preliminary studies indicate that with sufficient research and development, commercial offers can be realized,” said Tom Welch, an Energy Department spokesman. “Offshore wind’s electric generation capacity could grow significantly.”
Obama’s economic stimulus package includes $3.2 billion for grants to encourage renewable energy, $42.2 million of which has been allocated to Massachusetts.
Delahunt, with support from Reps. James McGovern, D-3, and Barney Frank, D-4, introduced a bill that would provide money for states to designate state waters for renewable energy projects. Forest said Delahunt expects the bill to make it to the House floor this spring.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently introduced legislation that promotes investments in transmission to facilitate access to renewable energy.
May 10, 2009
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