The First Big Offshore Wind Power Project in the U.S.

The Vineyard Wind project will involve 84 turbines and 800 megawatts of capacity in the Atlantic Ocean—but market competition with China looms.

Reader Contribution by Ted Flanagan
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Photo by Thomas G.

Yes, it’s America’s first utility-scale wind farm, approved in June 2021 with construction underway. The Vineyard Wind project will involve 84 turbines in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 12 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. The farm will have a capacity of 800 megawatts, then its power will travel via cables buried 6 feet below the ocean floor to Cape Cod. Vineyard Wind expects to deliver power by 2023.

This is a big step. Right now, there are only two offshore wind farms in the United States. They produce a rather paltry 42 megawatts. The Block Island Wind Farm is situated 3.8 miles southeast of Block Island in Rhode Island. The 30-megawatt, five-turbine farm began commercial operation in 2016. The 12-megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project is 27 miles offshore in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. It is the first utility-owned wind farm (Dominion Energy), and the first to be built in federal waters.

What About Other Offshore Wind Projects?

There are also a dozen other offshore wind projects under federal review. The U.S. Interior Department has estimated that by the end of the decade, there could be 2,000 turbines along the East Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina. The Biden Administration has pledged to build 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030. Efforts will include fast-tracking for permits and $3 billion in loan guarantees for offshore wind projects and investments in upgrades to ports to support wind-turbine construction.

Offshore wind is not without challenges: There is opposition from commercial fishing groups and coastal landowners; there are concerns about the effects on marine life. One commercial fishing group, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, worries that its members’ boats and trawlers will have difficulty navigating around the turbines. And this, they say, could affect the catch.

Let’s go west: On May, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an agreement with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other Biden Administration officials to open up the West Coast for offshore wind development. Offshore wind is a strong means for California to achieve its climate goals while providing jobs. The announced lease will open areas to support up to 4.6 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity — enough to power 1.6 million homes.

The Bureau of Ocean Management intends to offer a lease sale as early as 2022 for a 399-square mile area of the Central Coast northwest of Morro Bay, and a separate area on the North Coast. Floating wind turbines are planned for 95 percent of the proposed lease area, 20 to 30 miles offshore. As part of the California Comeback Plan, Newsom has proposed $20 million in funding to support offshore wind development.

Comparing the U.S. Wind Energy to China’s

Reminded, I am, this time of year about consumerism… and how much stuff we buy. It’s oft swathed in packaging. Much of it comes from China, “the world’s factory” and the world’s leading GHG polluter. Producing stuff we buy.

The good news is that China is the world’s leader in clean energy growth. Its cumulative installed onshore and offshore wind capacity stands at 302.2 gigawatts, according to Windpower Intelligence. Of this, 10 to 12 gigawatts are offshore. China built half of the world’s wind capacity in 2020. The country is expected to install 1,200 gigawatts of wind and solar capacity by 2026, four years ahead of its prior plan. China has huge wind potential, estimated at 2,300 gigawatts onshore, and 200 gigawatts offshore.

The largest wind turbine manufacturer in China is Goldwind, in the Xinjiang province. In 2019, it joined a partnership to develop a wind-to-hydrogen project in northeast China. The project goal is to put currently unused wind generation potential to good use and turn stranded wind power into a cheap energy source for hydrogen production. In 2020, Goldwind and GE took the top spots for wind turbine manufacturing, topping Danish Vestas.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2020 was a banner year for wind in China. It reported that “developers piled into the market” before a looming cut-off for new wind power subsidies from the government. China is slated to end subsidies for onshore wind power in 2021. Its National Development and Reform Commission said tariffs paid to onshore wind projects will be cut as low as 0.29 yuan ($0.042/kWh).

Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotiona California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitterlisten to The NetPositive Podcastand read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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