Interior to review first-ever floating turbine proposal off Maine

Source: Phil Taylor, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012

The Interior Department today announced it will begin reviewing a Norwegian company’s proposal to build what would be the nation’s first floating wind farm off the coast of Maine.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it will prepare an environmental impact statement on Statoil North America’s proposal to construct a 12-megawatt demonstration project about 12 miles off the Gulf of Maine.

The company in its proposal to BOEM last October said it hopes to build on its Hywind floating turbine project, which it deployed off the southwest coast of Norway in 2010.

“This is the first time that this innovative floating technology is being considered for development in deeper waters offshore our coasts,” Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes said in a statement. “As we develop America’s prolific, home-grown renewable energy resources — both onshore and offshore — we are strengthening our nation’s economy and energy independence.”

The agency is seeking comments on potential environmental issues and reasonable alternatives involving the proposed leasing, site characterization and assessment activities, and construction and operation in the project area.

It will also provide a 60-day comment period to determine whether there is any competitive interest in the 22-square-mile leasing area, which would likely trigger some kind of competitive auction.

Maine is considered to have good offshore wind resources, but federal waters there are too deep to moor offshore wind turbines. Statoil is proposing to build four turbines in about 500 feet of water.

The floating turbine used in its Norway demonstration includes a steel cylinder filled with water and rocks and extends more than 300 feet beneath the water, according to the company’s website.

“Through the first two years of testing, the concept has been verified, and it continually exceeds preforms beyond expectations,” the company said. “With few operational challenges, excellent production output, and well-functioning technical systems the Hywind concept could revolutionize the future of offshore wind.”

While the technology is less mature, floating turbines will likely be needed in the deeper waters off the Pacific Coast, industry experts say.

In the mid-Atlantic, where waters are shallow enough for turbines to be moored to the seafloor, Interior said it plans to hold its first competitive offshore wind lease by the end of the year, though it has not indicated which state will be selected.

While offshore wind farms have operated for decades in Europe, the United States has yet to see any projects built, in part because of high capital costs, uncertain federal policy and the threat of lawsuits.