#4. Major developments in offshore wind energy development
2010 was an historic year for offshore wind power in the United States. On October 6th, after almost ten years of permitting reviews and amidst ongoing controversy, Cape Wind – a 130-turbine wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound – was granted the first federal lease for offshore wind power generation. Several weeks later, Massachusetts approved a power purchase agreement between Cape Wind and National Grid that covers half the electricity Cape Wind is expected to generate; Governor Deval Patrick’s administration has put pressure on NStar to buy the other half, but NStar has been staunchly opposed. Of course, the embattled project still faces legal challenges: The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound has multiple lawsuits pending, including a challenge to the National Grid deal, and a group of fishermen on Martha’s Vineyard are planning to sue federal officials, claiming that Cape Wind’s insurers would bar them from fishing – an historic and continued use – within the leased area. The extension of subsidies for renewable energy projects allows Cape Wind more time to deal with these issues without the threat of losing necessary financial aid, and Siemens may also help fund the project (not a purely philanthropic move; Siemens will supply the turbines). So the Cape Wind saga is far from over.
But it’s just the start of historic landmarks the industry hit this fall. In late November, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced new “smart permitting process” for siting and permitting offshore wind energy projects along the Atlantic seaboard. Within weeks, Deepwater Wind LLC announced plans to take advantage of the new process to expedite what would be the largest offshore wind farm in the U.S. – 200 turbines in Rhode Island Sound. The Deepwater Wind Energy Center would also include transmission lines that would connect the New York and New England power grids … which brings me to the last major development I’ll mention here:
In October, Google and Good Energies announced plans to finance a proposed $5 billion undersea transmission line – the Atlantic Wind Connection – that would provide infrastructure for future offshore wind farms along the Atlantic coast, reducing costs and permitting required for such developments while also enabling the flow of onshore electricity from low-cost southern markets to high-demand markets in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Experts disagree on just how much of New England’s energy could feasibly come from offshore wind farms, with estimates ranging from a quarter to virtually all of the region’s energy demands. As 2010 draws to a close, it would appear we are poised to begin exploring the question in reality rather than just theory.