DOE announcement caps stellar week for offshore wind

Source: Sam Mintz, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2018

To top off a series of positive developments for the offshore wind industry, the Department of Energy put out a request for information (RFI) today asking how it can leverage its research capabilities to boost the technology even more.

The RFI, which asks for input from the public and industry, is focused on research and development test facilities.

“Testing of offshore wind components and scale-prototypes is critical to help advance America’s offshore wind industry,” said Mark Menezes, undersecretary of Energy, in a statement.

“Through this request we are looking to better understand our U.S. offshore wind testing capabilities,” he said, “and how we can improve those facilities to compete in the global market.”

The RFI specifically asks about facilities that can do unique offshore wind testing in the U.S., upgrades that could be useful to ensure the U.S. is at the cutting edge of research, and specific tests or analyses that could be conducted.

The announcement comes days after the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law that would double the state’s purchase of offshore wind (Climatewire, Aug. 1).

And it also comes on the heels of the news that the first large commercial offshore wind farm in the U.S., also in Massachusetts, will save consumers in the state $1.4 billion over a 20-year contract.

The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project could reduce customers’ monthly bills by as much as 1.5 percent, said the state’s Department of Energy Resources in a letter to the Department of Public Utilities.

The project is expected to begin construction in 2019, and the developers, Avangrid Inc. and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, are planning to have it operating by 2021.

Vineyard Wind will produce power at the price of $74 per megawatt-hour in an initial phase, and $65 for a second phase.

That cost is a major improvement for offshore wind and has clean energy advocates excited about the possibilities. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst called it “pretty shocking.”

Block Island Wind Farm, which came online off Rhode Island in 2016, produced energy for $244 per MWh. More recently, two Maryland projects offered power last year at $132 per MWh.

“At $74, that’s cost competitive with new coal and new nuclear,” said Silvio Marcacci, communications director at Energy Innovation, a California clean energy think tank.

“Turbines are getting bigger, they’re getting more powerful. What you’re seeing is the same trend you’ve seen in Europe. As you start to get more expertise, knowledge, development, the prices start to go down,” Marcacci said.

Analysts say the success of the Massachusetts project could encourage further investment in coastal states, with Mid-Atlantic ones looking to be next in line.

New Jersey has set a goal of reaching 3,500 MW of offshore wind generation by 2030, and New York is aiming to purchase 2,400 MW by the same date.