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Meet the Game Changer in Offshore Wind Farming

 

Windmills in a row on cloudy weather wide shot denmark

Construction of the first major offshore wind farm in the United States is set to begin sometime in 2019, 55 km south of the mainland of Massachusetts. Vineyard Wind will consist of 84 wind turbines over a 650 square km expanse, generating 800 megawatts.

Unlike the tiny, five-turbine, 30 megawatt wind farm off of the coast of Rhode Island, producing electricity for 24.4 U.S. cents per kilowatt hour, Vineyard Wind has agreed to a price of just 7.4 cents per kilowatt hour, dropping to 6.5 cents in the project’s second phase. This makes it competitive with coal and natural gas, but without the carbon emissions.

“Vineyard Wind’s price is a game changer,” says Bill White, former senior director of offshore wind development at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. “Offshore wind is good for [combatting] climate change. It creates jobs. It meets the need for more electricity as the Northeast’s power-generation fleet ages. Offshore wind has been a no-brainer — except on cost. Now, cost has almost been taken off the table.”

The Work Behind the Wind

While other countries have embraced wind power, efforts in the United States have been hindered by technical, economic, regulatory, and political hurdles. Cape Wind, which was to be built off the coast of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod is a perfect example. In 2017, after 16 years of legal challenges following its proposal and subsequent local, state, and federal approval and financial backing, Cape Wind developers finally canceled the project.

Walt Musial, manager of offshore wind at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), says, “We recognized that offshore wind would come to Massachusetts but that there were obstacles, so … we’ve been doing all this work to get ready.”

That work included:

  • Environmental surveys
  • Planning for transmission lines
  • Funding a study of gray whales, which may be affected by wind farm construction
  • A $100 million upgrade to the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal in order for it to handle massive turbine components

More to Come

Vineyard Wind is only the first of a number of large U.S. offshore wind projects in the works. There are already several other sites next to the Vineyard Wind site, and in mid-December 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the winners of three additional leases in that area. Meanwhile, New Jersey and New York have set goals of 3,500 and 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind, respectively, by 2030.

The U.S. isn’t the only country investing in offshore wind. Globally, the total installed capacity of offshore wind is projected to reach 115 gigawatts by 2030, a six fold increase from 2017, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. France, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, Germany, and the United Kingdom are also in the game.

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Resources

Kumagai, Jean. (1 Jan 2019). With Vineyard Wind, the U.S. Finally Goes Big on Offshore Wind Power. IEEE Spectrum.

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