The word at offshore wind workshop is ‘Let’s get moving’ By Carl Levesque

An undercurrent of anticipation is circulating at AWEA’s Offshore Wind Power Workshop here in Boston this week.

Speakers talk about offshore wind power being on the cusp of a takeoff. Attendance figures are surging, mirroring the surge in offshore interest. Over 730 people are here for the workshop, a 59% jump from last year’s first-ever offshore workshop that drew 460. Similarly, the number of exhibitors has increased from four in 2008 to a head-turning 37 this year.

The mood of anticipation is also tinged with some impatience. “We can’t just keep talking about” offshore wind energy, said Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri at Wednesday’s opening session. “We’ve got to do it, and get something going.”

As if on cue, some developments that were announced at this workshop suggest that offshore wind energy in the U.S. does seem to be rapidly approaching the moment when it becomes a reality.

For example, developers of the Cape Wind project offshore Massachusetts, which has been in the proposal stage for about eight years, announced that they had recently signed a being a memorandum of understanding with National Grid, a major regional utility, to negotiate a contract to sell the power from the Cape Wind project to the utility.

It was an important step forward and psychological boost for a project that has been beset by endless delays due to the tireless legal maneuverings of opponents.

Also circulating here were reports of a poll taken by the University of Delaware showing that a majority of Cape Cod residents support Cape Wind, a significant shift from previous polls.

While participants and speakers here sense the arrival of a new era in American wind power, they are also quite willing to discuss the sobering challenges that come with developing offshore projects.

As is the case with onshore wind, supply chains specific to offshore need to be developed, and infrastructure, from ports to the specialized vessels needed to deploy turbines in open waters, must be purchased, adapted and built.

One particular policy challenge is a law commonly known as the Jones Act, which requires that ships traveling between American ports be U.S. flagged, owned, and operated. That’s a big issue for an industry that could use equipment from Europe, where offshore projects have already been built, at least to get started.

But if the excited mood of workshop participants here can be translated to action, there is little doubt this and other problems are likely to be surmounted, and that U.S. offshore wind power will become a reality. Finally.