Despite massive growth of the offshore wind industry in Europe, a blossoming array of land-based wind turbines stateside and plenty of wind to spare, the U.S. has yet to sink even one turbine in the ocean. European and Asian counterparts keep going at making offshore wind a basic component of their energy plans, but America’s offshore developers are still chasing wet steel. What’is in the way?
1. Begging bucks from Uncle Sam
Both the Production Tax Credit (recoups wind developers 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power they produce, amounting to a vital $1 billion a year) and the Incentive Tax Credit (pays back 30% of a wind project’s construction costs) were re-upped by Congres earlier this year. But this is nothing compared to the lavishly subsidized (and lobbied) fossil fuel industry. Offshore-made electricity also suffers from higher construction and transmission costs, and is way more expensive than low cost fracking-generated natural gas. So without adequate financial backing from the feds, renewables startups can’t get off the ground.
2. Blowback from “stakeholders”
In the case of Cape Wind, a wind farm proposed in 2001 and whose backers say it could provide 75% of Cape Cod’s energy needs, between Whale and bird lovers, Defenders of tribal lands, Fishermen and personal interest groups, the project has been through a bewildering gauntlet of opponents and fought off more than a dozen lawsuits. Many of the nation’s leading environmental organizations (including NWF, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club) have come out in favor of the project because they know that the biggest threat to wildlife is global warming, and yet….
3. Not a single ship in the Unites States is equipped to handle wind turbines
Forget about whales and personal interest, to lodge a 450-ton, over-400-foot tall turbine into the ocean floor, one needs a 500-foot, $200 million turbine-ready installation ship. Existing ones are mainly docked in Europe and because of an obscure 1920 law, foreign ships cruising in from abroad would not be able to dock in the States. Weeks Marine of New Jersey is working on building the country’s first turbine ship, but it won’t be seaworthy before 2014.
4. States and feds butting heads
In Europe, governments auction off the construction sites with the contract (with the electric utility for the developer to sell the farm’s power into the grid). In the U.S., the deep water necessary for wind turbines is managed by the federal Interior Department while the contracts are state-awarded. As wind lobbyists schmooze their way into statehouses up and down the Atlantic seaboard and score more contracts, the feds will need to rethink how they decide who gets to develop the ocean floor…
* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?
– We all witnessed the Fukushima nuclear power station catastrophy two years ago in Japan, and more or less agree that it is time to find safer alternatives to produce electricity.
– Fracking, while admittedly a cheaper way of extracting natural gas, is a very polarizing topic due to human and environmental health issues.
– As shown with land-based wind turbines, wind is a free (resource), clean, efficient way to generate energy and apart from legitimate concerns for wildlife (and powerful personal interests) and technical blocks (i.e. no ship to install wind-turbine on deep water ground), offshore wind turbines do belong to the list of serious options to consider.
. What do you think about the idea of putting powerful sea winds to good use with energy production?
. Do you foresee any issues the size of the existing ones experienced via current production methods?
. What would you suggest pro or con wind energy?
Let us know…