Where is the American Offshore Wind?

Ryan Pollin for Zondits, June 4, 2015. Image credit: moerschy

Onshore wind energy has firmly planted itself as the least expensive renewable energy technology available, and offshore wind offers significant prospects for energy generation. Offshore turbines can be much taller, where stronger and more consistent winds are available, and bigger across, too. A quick look at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) offshore wind resource map shows viable wind resource on almost every mile of coastline in the country, with major hotspots in Northern California, Hawaii, and the Northeast. Let’s take a tour of a few offshore projects that are furthest along in development.

offshore wind

The Cape Wind project in the Nantucket Sound of Massachusetts was announced back in 2001. The project involves 130 turbines with a total capacity of about 450 MW, to be placed 5 to 10 miles from the closest shorelines. Since then, it has been dogged by wealthy local opponents and brought to court more than thirty times as of last spring (it has thus far won every meaningful decision). The opponent’s delay tactic (which, by the way, has been acknowledged as the brainchild of oil billionaire Bill Koch) has led to a number of stumbles by the project, most notably a failure to meet 2014 construction deadlines written into their PPA with NSTAR (now Eversource). As a result, the project is struggling on in more and more court cases, more than a decade later, still waiting to begin construction. Alternative projects in the area include a proposal by Jay Cashman for up to a 300 MW facility about 20 miles west in Buzzards Bay, but that area has not been sanctioned by the state government for development.

So, what else is happening along the U.S. shores? Exciting to say, there is good news! The Block Island Wind Farm project, 3 miles from Block Island, has begun construction and is expected to be generating power before the end of 2016. There are already more than ten turbines on the island, and the five offshore turbines will add another 30 MW of capacity. Block Island is currently running on diesel generators, and as such has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. This is the first step in a larger vision for 385 MW of wind capacity in federal waters in the area, which would generate 15% of Rhode Island’s annual energy use.

Another offshore wind project currently under construction is Fishermen’s Energy Atlantic City Wind Farm in New Jersey. Fishermen’s is also a demonstration project, and the current proposal includes five 3 MW turbines 3 miles from shore. Initially, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities rejected the project, but after a $47 million dollar grant from the Department of Energy and a trip to the Superior Court of New Jersey, the project is finally underway.

Exciting offshore wind plans are in development in Hawaii as well, which would include 408 MW of the first floating offshore turbines implemented in the United States. No matter where you look, the economic and environmental benefits of offshore are growing, and whether or not it requires court involvement, we’ll soon be getting used to the idea of American offshore wind.