Deepwater Wind began construction off the coast of Rhode Island on a five-turbine wind farm that will, eventually, have the ability to power 17,000 homes.
The 30-megawatt, $290 million wind power project began construction this week 18 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, but, itself, is a much smaller project than the stalled Cape Wind farm project originally planned for the area around Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
US Wind Power Lags
Offshore wind projects are common in Europe and a real driver of renewable energy success there. The fact that the US is only starting to get into the offshore game is a testament to how the regulatory framework and maturity of the renewable energy industry are both lagging here in the states.
The death knell for the proposed 130-turbine Cape Wind project may have come early this year when the two largest electric utilities in Massachusetts backed out of a plan to buy most of the power that was slated to be generated by the proposed turbine project, the latest casualty of what can only be described as an environmentalist civil war over whether to place turbines off Nantucket Sound.
Green vs. Green
The Humane Society, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the International Wildlife Coalition and and others are against the project. On the other side are groups that might normally be considered allies, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace.
Opponents, such as environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., say the natural environment of the Sound should be preserved and that the industrial nature of the turbines would spoil views from the shore. They also say that native birds would be decimated by the 40-foot-tall turbines.
Proponents point out that the $700 million project would create jobs, generate an average of 170 megawatts of power a day. On very windy days, it could generate up to 420 MW a day thanks to favorably tested winds along a 28-square- mile grid that runs along a five-mile-long stretch of shallow waters known as Horseshoe Shoals.
Paralysis via Opposition
The argument illuminates the competing interests that often engage in legal, political and public relations combat through the US regulatory system, slowing approval of projects for reasons other than, well, regulation.
Truth be told, on a legal and regulatory level Cape Wind’s proponents have won both in court and in regulatory committees much more than its opponents. After more than eight years of lawsuits and government reviews the backers of Cape Wind have won most of the lawsuits and the power generation ability of the turbines was never in any real dispute. The legal challenges have been able to continue only due to funding by billionaire businessman William Koch and the vocal opposition of Kennedy.
The lag in wind power in the US is the result. Denmark relies on wind for 16% of its power and wind-generating capacity jumped by almost a third throughout the world last year. Here in the US, companies added 1,789 MW of wind power last year, enough to provide electricity for 500,000 homes.
While there are 48,000 operating turbines in the US, Deepwater Wind will be the first to generate its power offshore, a proven method of consistent energy generation. In Europe, there are 408 offshore wind turbines in nine wind farms that are fully grid connected and one demonstration project with a combined capacity totalling 1,483 MW. Another 2,900 MW are planned.