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Is Offshore Wind “On” in the Biden Administration?
- Dec 4, 2020 3:44 pm GMT
Offshore wind holds great promise, mainly because its fuel is cost-free, potentially unlimited, emission-free, and requires no storage or transportation. Yet there is only one utility-scale offshore wind park operating off the coast of the United States, the Block Island project off the coast of Rhode Island. More of a demonstration project, its five turbines have a combined nameplate capacity of just 30MW, which means at a claimed capacity factor of 47% is still producing only 14.1 MW over a given period of time.
Still, it was a start, and many more are in the queue including large projects off the coast of Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, and even Ohio, in Lake Erie. According to Recharge News, state offshore wind capacity commitments now total about 23GW by 2035, most of these backed by power purchase agreements (PPAs) including 20 years from the Long Island Power Authority for the South Fork Wind project; 20 years from National Grid, Eversource, and United Illuminating Co. for the Revolution Wind project; 25 years from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) for New York’s Empire Wine project; 25 years from NYSERDA for the larger Long Island Sunrise Wind project; 16 years from Cleveland Public Power for the Lake Erie Icebreaker project; and Offshore Wind Energy Credits from the state of Maryland for the Skipjack project off the coast of Delaware.
Even with signed and dotted PPAs many challenges remain. When you stack up federal and state regulatory approvals; subsea geotechnical work; completed and approved construction and operations plans and environmental impact statements; secured ports and laydown areas; shoreline community input; turbine selection, financing and acquisition; a BOEM lease, and secured offshore construction vessels, just to name a few, you get the feeling that projected timelines are more aspirational than realistic.
I received a dose of this complexity more than ten years ago at Princeton-based NRG Energy where I was the spokesman for the East Region and the proposed Mid-Atlantic Wind Park off the coast of Delaware. Although NRG inherited a project in progress and a groundbreaking PPA with Delmarva Power when we bought Bluewater Wind, we labored for two full years in what were still just the beginning stages—more geotechnical work, plans for a meteorological tower that was never built, permitting with Interior, BOEM and its predecessor BOEMRE, and unsuccessful attempts to land a financing partner, secure Jones Act-compliant vessels, and obtain a location to bring the cable ashore from an estimated $1.5 billion, 200 MW offshore wind park. We even had to meet and come to preliminary terms with fishermen’s representatives, the US Coast Guard, NORAD and the FAA. Month by month the costs ran up in parallel with the obstacles, and while we ultimately secured a 100,00 water-acre lease from BOEM, we never moved forward from that point, and eventually sold the lease to Deepwater Wind, which later was acquired by Ørsted.
NRG CEO David Crane summed up the main obstacle at the time in an interview with Transmission Hub’s Corina Rivera-Linares: “We’re not saying it’ll never be resurrected, but right now, there are just so many different aspects of offshore wind in the United States that require coordinated government action, and we just don’t see that that’s going to happen.”
To be sure, things are far different—and much better—a decade later. What may have changed are more positive public attitudes towards offshore wind and utility-scale green energy in general, and the advantages of a White House that looks more than kindly on them. And today’s projects have much more momentum, financial backing, solid, long-term PPAs and not least the strong and vocal support of state governors including New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, states with aggressive renewable portfolio requirements and big plans for offshore wind. Moreover, on October 29 the governors of Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia inked an agreement to “establish the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources”…“the framework under which Signatory States will cooperatively promote, develop, and expand offshore wind energy generation and the accompanying industry supply chain and workforce.”
Another bright spot is Houston-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation, which announced on December third that it will build the first Jones Act-compliant, U.S. flagged offshore installation ship to coincide with the advancement of one or more of the 14 projects expected to be online within about five years. And in mid-November, Ørsted and North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU) announced a partnership to develop, train and deploy an offshore wind construction workforce to support Ørsted’s planned projects. Assuming Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, he’s made clear that large-scale renewables are a central plank in his energy platform.
But as we’ve seen just this week, in the case of offshore wind power, technical advancements ironically can lead to development delays. To wit: on December first, Vineyard Wind withdrew its construction and operations plan (COP) filed with BOEM, following its selection of the massive GE Renewable Energy's Haliade-X 13 MW turbine. Given their output, the Vineyard project will require fewer turbines, requiring a rewrite of the COP which was developed based on 8-10 MW machines. I reflected on this, especially because less than 10 years ago we were looking at 3-5 MW turbines as state-of-the-art.
There’s no reason the United States can’t stand up large offshore wind projects in a reasonable time frame. We should take a lesson from Europe where more than 22,000 MW of wind are operating, and just in November, Ørsted flipped the switch on the 752 megawatt (MW) Borssele 1 & 2 offshore wind farm off the southwest coast of the Netherlands, reportedly the second-largest project in the world. But it will take a concerted, focused effort and the cooperation of federal and state governments and regulators to streamline and speed the permitting and approval process. Otherwise, 2025 will come and go without another turbine in the water.
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