US Administration approves first US offshore wind farm

On 28 April, the Obama administration approved what would be the first US offshore wind farm. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) applauded Secretary Salazar’s decision to approve the wind power project.

The Cape Wind power project would occupy a 25-square-mile section off Nantucket Sound and generate enough energy to power more than 200,000 homes in Massachusetts. 

The wind farm will deliver annual reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to taking 175,000 cars off the road, while allowing Massachusetts to tap a vast energy resource that doesn’t consume fossil fuels or discharge pollution.

"Such forward-thinking decisions are necessary for the U.S. to realize the many environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind energy. The U.S. offshore wind industry will build on the success and the lessons learned from the nearly twenty years of experience in Europe to provide clean, pollution-free, electricity along the coasts and in the Great Lakes," said Denise Bode, AWEA’s CEO.

"As Secretary Salazar said himself this January, there is a bright future for offshore wind power in this country. Our recent polling shows that wind works for America – it means new manufacturing jobs, less dependence on imported energy, and more pure, clean, affordable energy for our country," she added.

Besides providing Cape Cod with three-fourths of its energy, the $2 billion Cape Wind energy project could help transform the New Bedford waterfront and make the city a leader in the field of wind energy.

New Jersey is in a race to have the first offshore wind power project, and the state just might beat Massachusetts, where U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week announced the approval of a 130 wind turbines wind farm in Nantucket Sound. That project, under review for nine years, continues to be threatened by lawsuits.

However, AWEA also warns that the US wind energy industry now needs comprehensive legislation with a national Renewable Electricity Standard in order to create a long-term market for the onshore and offshore wind industries that will bring extensive economic development and jobs to nearby areas.

Despite the positive decision, the future of Cape Wind remains uncertain. Since it was first proposed in 2001, the project has faced strong opposition and opponents have already announced plans for litigation.

The wind power offshore has taken on renewed urgency as the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which threatens wildlife and beaches along the Louisiana and Florida coastline, has dampened enthusiasm for offshore drilling.

On Friday, a group of New Jersey lawmakers called for a moratorium on oil exploration off parts of the Atlantic Coast, and urged the federal government to speed up the permitting process for offshore wind farms.

The American Wind Energy Association announced that the U.S. wind industry installed 539 megawatts (MW) in the first quarter of 2010, the lowest first quarter figure since 2007.

Offshore wind energy, although still in its infancy, is starting to have an increasing impact on Europe’s wind power development, and it is expected to reach 40 GW or more of installed capacity by 2020.

By the end of 2009, a total of 830 wind turbines were installed and grid connected in European waters, bringing the total installed capacity offshore in Europe to 2,063 MW.

These are spread across 39 wind farms in nine European countries. In terms of size they range from 2 MW (Lely, Netherlands, built in 1994) to 209 MW (Horns Rev 2, Denmark, built in 2009).

The main offshore markets in Europe are the United Kingdom (883 MW) and Denmark (646 MW), followed by the Netherlands (247 MW), Sweden (164 MW), Germany (42 MW), Belgium (30 MW) and Ireland (25 MW).

Finland has a functioning near shore wind farm (24 MW) and Norway a fully grid connected experimental floating wind turbine (2.3 MW). In 2009, 201 wind turbines in nine separate offshore wind farms were installed in European waters, totalling 584 MW of new capacity – a 56% increase on 2008 installations.

Of the €13 billion invested in new wind farms in the EU in 2009, €1.5 billion went towards offshore wind farms. This figure is expected to double to €3 billion in 2010.