The United States is one of the world’s top leaders in wind energy production. While the United States has made great achievements with on-shore wind energy projects, it has yet to expand its wind energy production offshore. Until recently, the focus has been permanent structures in the shallower waters of the Northeast. By shifting focus to floating turbines in deeper waters (where more than 60 percent of U.S. offshore wind resources are found), the United States can make revolutionary changes for the U.S. wind energy industry.
On May 7, 2014, the Department of Energy (DOE) gave well known wind industry companies, Principle Power and DeepWater Wind, a $47 million grant to install five 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines approximately 18 miles off the coast of Coos Bay, Oregon. The project, called WindFloat Pacific, would be the west coast’s first offshore wind farm and will feature the WindFloat floating wind turbine technology created by Principle Power. Principle Power also currently uses this technology in an offshore wind farm in Portugal.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) reports that offshore wind could be one of the few feasible ways to provide a utility-scale amount of renewable energy to the densely populated downstate region of New York.
Many believe that offshore wind energy could be expected to become the most viable option available for delivering utility-scale renewable electric generation to the densely populated downstate region of New York in the coming decade(s). Robust wind resources, large electrical loads and industrial and port capacity make the east coast attractive for wind development.
But, there are many reasons offshore wind projects have not yet become a reality in the Northeast. One of them is simply because the projects have until now involved fixing foundations by embedding them into the ocean floor. The process requires specialized vessels, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per day to rent, not to mention the environmental concerns that arise from dredging.
Fixed foundations are not an option on the west coast. The Continental Shelf drops off steeply and does not leave ample space for offshore turbines anchored on conventional platforms. Floating platforms and their turbines are manufactured entirely on shore, then towed out and fastened to the seabed. This means construction, installation and maintenance are all less costly. Not only that, but positioning offshore wind turbines in deeper water helps to capture resources that are found only in waters too deep for the customary bottom-mounted foundations. This makes them a highly reliable renewable energy source.
In this early phase of development of offshore wind energy, NYSERDA has commissioned several assessments to develop a base of knowledge about such things as seabed conditions, water depth, winds, waves and currents, marine life and birds that might be affected by placing wind turbines in the ocean region known as the New York Bight. These assessments are available here.
The WindFloat Pacific project, set to be completed in 2017, is not the first time we have seen tremendous support from the DOE for wind energy. Along with its generous grant to the Coos Bay project, the DOE gave Fishermen’s Energy a grant to install five 5-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines approximately three miles off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Dominion Virginia Power also received a grant and is set to install two 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines 26 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. The DOE also supported the University of Maine’s project to install the first floating wind turbine in the United States. The project was completed and the turbine has now been operating for over a year.
Notably, there are several other off-shore wind projects that are expected to bring further recognition to the U.S. wind industry and advance the state of the technology. Block Island Wind Farm is another DeepWater Wind venture. It is a 30-megawatt offshore wind farm to be located approximately three miles southeast of Block Island consisting of 5 turbines. Offshore construction is set to being next year. Also, DOE has conditionally committed to a hefty loan guarantee to a Massachusetts project that would be the first commercial-scale offshore wind energy farm with a capacity of 360 megawatts.
These projects are the pioneers of what hopefully is a bright (and windy!) future for off-shore wind power in the United States.
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