By Stas Margaronis, AJOTThe United States is likely to lag behind Europe and Asia in the development of offshore wind without a national energy policy that helps fast track approvals, standards and places a cost on carbon emissions, speakers at an Off-Shore Wind Conference in Boston told participants.
The conference sponsored by UK-based Green Power brought together wind developers, suppliers, bankers as well as local, state and federal officials to provide the most current evaluation of offshore wind power’s economic development potential to the United States.
The consensus from participants appears to be that:

  • Increased scale of projects is necessary to drive down costs and make wind power competitive
  • A number of participants echoed Brandi Colander, an attorney for the National Resource Defense Council who said that the lack of federal legislation placing a price on carbon and supporting renewable energy goals for utilities will impede wind and other renewable energy growth.
  • The proposed American Wind Connection off-shore transmission line connecting utilities between New Jersey and Virginia could provide a private industry means of developing larger wind farms using a regional transmission connection, according to Robert Mitchell, who heads AWC.
  • Banks may be reluctant to lend to offshore wind farms, because of high levels of uncertainties and risk.
  • Localizing the supply chain and building as much as possible onshore and then towing structures to sea for final installation can drive down construction costs.
  • Walt Musial, a U.S. Department of Energy engineer re-enforced this notion saying proposed floating wind turbines, still being tested, may be more cost-effective to build than those with fixed platforms needing installation at sea and that anchoring them in deeper water may capture 10-15% more wind than turbines fixed closer to land.
  • Offshore wind farms will be faster to permit than land-based systems even though land-based farms are cheaper to build.
  • Offshore wind development is already encouraging Atlantic coast ports, such as Norfolk, Virginia and New Bedford, Massachusetts to compete as wind farm construction ports along with Cleveland, Ohio where a Great Lakes project is developing.
  • Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement promised to streamline the permitting process.
  • Questions about the deployment of foreign flag vessels performing wind installation work were raised in relationship with the Jones Act which requires vessels be built in the United States that trade between U.S. ports.

Professor James Manwell, director, Wind Energy Center, University of Massachusetts noted that three types of offshore capabilities need to be developed:

  • Turbine installation vessels capable of taking wind turbines’ parts and installing them on foundations at sea
  • Cable-laying vessels that can lay cable under the sea bed to avoid ships’ anchors and other marine obstacles
  • Wind turbine service vessels will be required to service and repair wind turbines once they are operational.

Manwell then introduced Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind, “the real hero of offshore wind in the United States,” who was greeted by an enthusiastic round of applause from participants.
Jim Gordon announced that he hopes Cape Wind will begin construction of the first wind farm, in the United States, located off the Massachusetts coast, by the end of 2011.
Gordon said the company spent ten years facing 15 different court challenges and was forced to produce “hundreds of thousands of pages for permitting versus seventeen pages for the approval of the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf, a reference to the British Petroleum oil platform which sank in the Gulf of Mexico causing a major oil spill.
He told a questioner that there is not sufficient capital to massively develop new wind farms and that capital will conti