DOE tries to jump-start lagging U.S. offshore wind development

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Department of Energy has awarded around a half-million dollars to New York, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts state organizations to cooperate on scaling up the offshore wind industry in the region.

Under the leadership of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the group will lay out a collaborative road map by the end of the year on how to build up the new industry. The project largely aims to reduce the cost of offshore wind projects, which has been a barrier to development, and establish a regional supply chain.

Industry and state representatives learned about the federal grant at the first-ever offshore wind summit hosted by the White House yesterday.

Offshore wind has struggled to take off in the United States. Europe, meanwhile, has more than 80 offshore wind farms with more than 10,000 megawatts of capacity. The White House summit marks a renewed effort to get the industry going in the United States, said various attendees.

“There’s a real commitment and desire to move offshore wind forward,” said Warren Leon, executive director of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), who was at the meeting. “There’s a recognition that it’s not easy; this is a technology that is not currently cheap or easy to move into the marketplace, but it’s very much worth focusing on because the rewards for our electricity system, for our environment and for jobs would be so good.”

CESA will help coordinate the interstate project, he said. The group will first gather input from different stakeholders to find out where extended research is needed. The states involved could eventually figure out ways to cooperate on building transmission lines, giving out permits or filling out environmental impact analyses, he said.

The nearly $600,000 was awarded as part of the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program, which funded 12 projects.

A regional strategy takes shape

The White House also announced other initiatives meant to boost the nation’s offshore wind industry at the summit yesterday, including increased collaboration at the agency and international levels. The Council on Environmental Quality and Domestic Policy Council will lead a White House Interagency Working Group on Offshore Wind, which will also gather representatives from other federal agencies, according to a statement from the White House.

Also, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has begun organizing a multilateral group to collect and share expertise on offshore wind regulations and technology from industry leaders in Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Yesterday afternoon, experts from abroad and from the United States shared strategies on scaling up the industry at a hearing held by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

The different federal initiatives come as the offshore wind industry is “picking up momentum after a lull,” said Kit Kennedy, director of energy and transportation for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was at the White House meeting.

The offshore wind industry has experienced disappointing developments in recent years, including major setbacks to the proposed Cape Wind project in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound. That motivated a report earlier this year to urge a multi-state approach to replace the current strategy to get the industry on its feet again (ClimateWire, Feb. 17).

Earlier this summer, construction started on what is expected to become the first offshore wind farm in the United States off Block Island in Rhode Island by Deepwater Wind. The $225 million, 30 MW farm will have five turbines and is scheduled to begin producing energy next year. Last week, DOE announced it will hold an auction for the rights to build wind turbines in 344,000 acres of federal waters off New Jersey in November, the latest of several lease auctions it has announced (E&ENews PM, Sept. 23).

Kennedy applauded the federal support for a regional road map but stressed that in the meantime, individual projects should keep pushing forward.

“The regional approach to scaling up offshore wind is an interesting and promising approach as long as it leads to firm commitments to build offshore wind in each state, rather than a prolonged study process,” she said. “A pipeline of offshore wind projects has to start somewhere.”