Offshore Wind Energy Is a Bit Closer in U.S.

Deepwater Wind of Providence, R.I., announced that it was buying a giant and radically redesigned wind turbine from Siemens of Germany for its wind power project near Block Island. Fishermen’s Energy of Cape May, N.J., said it hoped to become the first operating offshore wind energy venture in the country by breaking ground (or ocean bottom) off Atlantic City before the end of the year.

And the two big investors in the Atlantic Wind Connection, which has an audacious plan for an undersea transmission cable that would run from southern Virginia to northern New Jersey, said their wind power project had made substantial progress since it was announced a year ago.

The conference, which opened on Tuesday afternoon, got apep talk from the secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, and Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland. As Mr. Salazar pointed out, this is an industry that does not really exist yet. Offshore WINDPOWER 2011: Manufacturers say stable federal policy needed to establish new wind energy market sector. Offshore OEMs: the supply wind turbines chain will come when a wind farm market is established.

With the much-anticipated Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM)/Major Turbine Manufacturers panel punctuating Day 2, the Offshore WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition continued to inform attendees, make news and serve as an industry town square and marketplace.

When heavy hitters comprising five of the top offshore OEMs come together for a chat, the wind power world listens. Answering questions from moderator Ed Weston of the Great Lakes Wind Network were Steve Cuevas of AREVA Renewables, Frederic Hendrick ofAlstom, Vestas’s Scott Keating, Siemens Wind Energy’s Thomas Mousten and Javier Perera of Gamesa.

One of the hot topics on Wednesday’s panel was how long it would take for an offshore wind power supply chain, and the accompanying jobs, to get established. The consensus: establishing a supply chain won’t necessarily take too long, but it won’t begin to grow roots until offshore projects start going in. "When these actually start to get constructed—that’s when this supply chain will start to move," said Keating, echoing the sentiments of several others. Or, as Cuevas said, "I don’t think we believe in the Field of Dreams philosophy of if you build it, they will come." Echoing the sentiments often heard among industry members talking about land-based wind power, panelists said that there must be a market for the product in order for economic activity to start moving. That, they say, requires a commitment at the federal level taking the form of stable policy.

Panelists also drilled down into technical aspects of the business. Wind turbines will continue to get bigger, they generally said, particularly because of the expense that goes with deploying each individual turbine.

With the 2011 turbine manufacturers panel now history, Offshore WINDPOWER attendees, which had totaled over 1,400 as of the end of yesterday, turn their attention today to the other side of the supplier-customer equation. In the event’s closing general session (3 p.m., Ballroom 2), the companies that hopefully will be buying offshore wind turbines very soon, the project developers, will provide their perspective on the industry.