Utility-scale offshore wind proposal floated for Hawaii 

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Offshore wind energy may be coming to the Aloha State in a big way.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on Friday announced that a Texas-based company submitted an unsolicited request to lease ocean property near Hawaii’s Oahu Island in January, with an aim to develop a 408-megawatt offshore wind energy project at an estimated cost of $1.9 billion.

The project would use floating offshore wind technology designed for deepwater environments. A pilot project planned for the Oregon coast using the same technology, the WindFloat project, was awarded a $47 million grant by the Department of Energy in May 2014 (ClimateWire, May 8, 2014).

If the Oahu project is completed, a total of 51 8-MW floating turbines would transmit energy to Hawaii’s third-biggest island using undersea cables.

Hawaii’s renewable portfolio standard aims for the state to get 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the state currently relies on petroleum to fuel the bulk of its electricity generation.

The developer, AW Hawaii Wind LLC (AWH), is a member of the Denmark-based Alpha Wind Energy group. Alpha Wind Energy is also involved in onshore wind development in Texas, according to the company’s website.

AWH submitted two separate requests. One, dubbed the Oahu South Project, would be for 12,099 acres located about 17 miles south of Oahu. The second, Oahu Northwest, would be for 11,387 acres located 12 miles northwest of the island.

An eyesore for Waikiki Beach?

BOEM said it determined in late February that AWH meets all the legal, financial and technical qualifications to hold an outer continental shelf lease. As part of agency procedure, BOEM will publish a request for interest in the Federal Register to determine whether there is any competitive interest for AWH’s proposed lease areas and seek other comments regarding potential issues to be addressed under a National Environmental Policy Act analysis.

In its formal request to BOEM, AWH stated the project sites identified are “where the wind resource is optimum and the distance to existing infrastructure is the shortest, however, at the same time outside protected nature areas and military restricted areas and far enough away from the coast not to have a significant negative visual impact.”

AWH did note that Department of Defense activities and the chance of visibility from Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach are “potential significant known issues” for the Oahu South Project.

The company also acknowledged several potential development hurdles justifying the project’s $1.9 billion price tag. For example, the company stated there are no manufacturing or harbor facilities yet available in Hawaii that are suitable for assembling an offshore wind project at this scale.

However, the company also believes it is possible to not exceed a cost of $5 million per megawatt installed. AWH also estimates the project could create up to 100 permanent jobs over a 10-year period.

There are currently no utility-scale offshore wind projects in U.S. waters. A 30-MW pilot project in Rhode Island state waters is under development and slated to begin producing power by 2016 (ClimateWire, March 4). Cape Wind, a utility-scale project planned for Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, recently suffered a major setback when two utilities opted out of agreements to buy power from the project (Greenwire, Jan. 7).