Several European countries already have offshore wind farms, including Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, China completed the installation of its Shanghai Donghai Bridge offshore wind farm project, which has a total installed capacity of 102 MW (enough to power 200,000 Shanghai homes) and is the first large scale offshore wind farm constructed outside Europe. As for the United States, the Department of Interior (DOI) had issued a report last April which noted (in part) that 28 of the contiguous states have a coastal boundary (including the Great Lakes), 78% percent of the electricity demand in the United States is from the coastal states, and offshore wind has the potential to meet a large proportion of that demand. As analyzed by the National Renewable Energy Lab, over 1,000 gigawatts (GW) of wind potential exists off the Atlantic Coast and over 900 GW of wind potential exists off the Pacific Coast. Despite the great potential for offshore wind in the United States, not one offshore wind project has been approved for construction in the United States…until now. On Wednesday, April 28, 2010, Secretary Salazar approved the Cape Wind project to be constructed on the intercontinental shelf off of Massachusetts. The regulatory tide is turning…
Approval of the Cape Wind offshore wind project despite contentious opposition by certain groups provides regulatory support for offshore wind and provides some guidance for several other offshore projects that have been proposed in the last few years. The development of wind projects in the United States, which are (by all accounts) capital-intensive, has been hampered by concerns about the financial markets, the overall economic downturn, regulatory uncertainty as to the future role for renewables in energy policy, and environmental issues. While Congress has yet to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation, the approval of the Cape Wind project signals that large scale renewable energy development can play a role in economic recovery and in energy independence and that opposition by those who believe offshore wind farms are unsightly will not prevail when other factors align in favor of the development.
The process for the Cape Wind project began in 2001, when Cape Wind Associates, LLC, submitted an application to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) for a permit to construct an offshore wind power facility in Nantucket Sound. Public review and opposition followed. According to the DOI, the proposed Cape Wind project is expected to meet 75% of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket combined and cut carbon dioxide emissions from traditional power plants by 700,000 tons per year. The Cape Wind facility will occupy a 25-square-mile section of Nantucket Sound and produce enough energy to serve more than 200,000 homes in Massachusetts. The maximum energy output of Cape Wind is 468 MW, with an average anticipated output of 182 MW. The project includes a 66.5-mile buried submarine transmission cable system, an electric service platform, and two 115-kV lines connecting to the mainland power grid.
Success begets success. And so, even though the United States is not the first country to approve the construction of an offshore wind farm, this is very encouraging for wind energy developers, the construction industry, and financial investors who were waiting to see whether the 9-year old Cape Wind proposal would pass regulatory - and especially environmental - muster and then survive the aesthetic opposition raised by some.