U.S. makes awards for offshore wind farm projects

Underscoring the Obama Administration’s strategy to develop more domestic energy sources, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced on Dec. 12 seven offshore wind awards for projects in Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.

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Underscoring the Obama Administration’s strategy to develop more domestic energy sources, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced on Dec. 12 seven offshore wind awards for projects in Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas and Virginia. Part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DoE) broader efforts to launch an offshore wind industry in the U.S., the engineering, design and deployment awards, selected from more than 70 competing proposals, will support offshore installations in state and federal waters slated for commercial operation by 2017.

Each project will receive up to $4 million (USD) to complete its engineering, site evaluation and planning phase. When all seven projects complete this phase, the DoE Wind Program will select as many as three projects to receive additional funding as they advance to the follow-on design, fabrication and deployment phases toward the goal of commercial operation. Each of the projects will be eligible for up to $47 million over four years, subject to congressional action on appropriations.

One of the seven projects selected for the first phase of this six-year initiative was put forth by the University of Maine’s (UMaine) Advanced Structures and Composites Center (Orono, Maine). A team of industry leaders and national laboratories, led by the UMaine Composites Center, will develop a 12-MW demonstration offshore wind farm, called Aqua Ventus I, using a floating wind turbine platform technology developed at the UMaine Composites Center during the past four years. This project builds on the success of the DeepCwind Consortium Research Program, spearheaded by the UMaine Composites Center and its industry partners and funded by the DoE, the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation and the Maine Technology Institute, among others. UMaine researchers will deploy a 1:8-scale floating platform early this year at the UMaine Deepwater Offshore Wind Test Site near Monhegan Island, Maine.

“We are pleased that the DoE has selected our team’s program after a rigorous technical review,” says Dr. Habib Dagher, director of the UMaine Composites Center and principal investigator for the project. “This R&D program could be transformational for our state, and will help us demonstrate a unique, patent-pending floating wind turbine technology, called VolturnUS.”

“The United States has tremendous untapped clean energy resources, and it is important for us to develop technologies that will allow us to utilize those resources in ways that are economically viable,” says Chu. By some estimates, offshore wind has the potential to produce more than 4,000 GW of domestic electricity — four times the nation’s current total generation capacity. According to a new report commissioned by the DoE, U.S. offshore wind could support as many as 200,000 U.S. manufacturing, construction, operations and supply-chain jobs — a significant percentage of them in the composites industry — and drive more than $70 billion in annual investments by 2030. In 2011 land-based wind power represented 32 percent of all new electric capacity additions in the U.S., accounting for $14 billion in new investment.

Related to offshore Atlantic activities, New England Cable News (NECN) reported on Nov. 20 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a $100 million Marine Commerce Terminal in New Bedford, Mass., which could be a key project staging area as offshore wind energy is developed. The planned 28-acre site will include 7 acres of fill in the harbor. According to the report, the terminal, which will be able to accommodate ships up to 500 ft/152m long and handle larger shipments, such as railroad cars and industrial boilers, is touted as a potential hub for staging construction of offshore wind projects, such as the already approved Cape Wind wind farm (pictured in the artist’s rendering, upper right), or others that may be built in Rhode Island Sound and areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Wind turbine blades, towers and cables would be shipped to the pier and assembled there for delivery offshore.

However, the report says that Cape Wind developers have opened discussions with representatives of Rhode Island, fearing the New Bedford facility may not be open soon enough to accommodate what Cape Wind officials now say will be a 2014 construction start.
Cape Wind has said it wants to use the New Bedford terminal as much as is feasible. At CT press time, Massachusetts had about $60 million of the needed $100 million in funding lined up and authorized, but several area property owners still need to agree to buy out and relocation proposals. New Bedford’s mayor, Jonathan Mitchell, told NECN he’s confident that even if Cape Wind does not happen, there are other offshore wind projects that could make good use of the marine terminal. “This is where the wind is,” Mitchell says, noting that just south of New Bedford lie areas estimated to represent 25 percent of all practical U.S. near-shore wind generation territory.