3 Questions: Stephen Connors on offshore wind farms

Apr 30, 2010 by David L. Chandler

(PhysOrg.com) -- Stephen Connors is director of the Analysis Group for Regional Energy Alternatives (AGREA) at the MIT Energy Initiative. He is a graduate of what is now the Wind Energy Center at UMass-Amherst and an inaugural board member of the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative.

MIT News asked him about the impact of the U.S. Department of the Interior's announcement on April 28 that it will allow a 130-turbine project called Cape Wind, to be built in Nantucket Sound. The project would be the nation?s first .

Q. How important do you think this decision is in terms of opening the door to a broader development of offshore wind resources in the U.S.?

A. Being the first, the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound has been instrumental for getting an offshore wind industry rolling in the United States. When first proposed in 2001, it was not clear whose job it was at both the state and federal levels to grant the permits, let alone how. This was especially true for the environmental impact assessment, since there was no real baseline of ocean environmental criteria or magnitude of acceptable impacts on lobsters, clams, fish, birds and whales. It was several years into the permitting before the federal government passed a law selecting the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) as the coordinating federal authority for granting the final permit, although the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and the Coast Guard all played important evaluation and approval roles.

Early in Cape Wind's permitting process there were several proposed offshore projects, such as off Long Island. These were all mothballed or never got started as the Cape Wind experience dragged out. However, once Cape Wind had the majority of its Massachusetts permits, and the federal review process with MMS was moving forward, other serious projects and state initiatives from South Carolina to Maine and the Great Lakes have been appearing.

While is has been a bumpy ride for Cape Wind, they appear to have steered their way through the now-charted regulatory waters, and others are following in their wake. This has been helped by the continued development of European offshore wind, especially in the areas of wind turbine technology and construction techniques.

Q. Given the many years of ups and downs this project has been through, is this decision really the final word, or are there any remaining possible pitfalls?

A. It appears to be. The Department of the Interior-MMS permit was Cape Wind's last remaining permit. However, that doesn't mean the ruling cannot be challenged. But Cape Wind has withstood numerous challenges already, so there is some confidence that most challengers' arguments have been heard. In anticipation of the project's approval, several groups announced their intention to challenge MMS's ruling, including the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe of Martha's Vineyard and the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's decision to approve the project puts to the side the recommendation of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation that the project's impact on "historic properties" was too great. So that is a likely source for the next round of challenges, even though Salazar's permit requires Cape Wind to perform an archeological survey of the wind farm's seabed location and several other requirements.

Q. How significant is the offshore wind potential in this country, and are there any remaining potential roadblocks or challenges to developing that potential?

A. The U.S. Department of Energy's 2008 "20 Percent Wind by 2030" report estimated that there is 54 gigawatts of offshore wind potential, roughly 4 percent of the nation's projected electricity demand if fully developed. Many states including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Delaware have been developing marine utilization plans, including zoning for offshore wind. These take into account fishing, shipping and visual impacts, so some "pre-siting" has been occurring. The cost and performance of offshore wind turbines is still an unknown.

Most commercial experience in offshore wind has been "wet-foot" wind, namely larger, “marine-ized” versions of land-based wind turbines mounted directly to the ocean floor in relatively shallow waters. This is fine for Europe's North Sea where shallow waters reach far out into the ocean. Along the Northeast Coast of the U.S., many of the shallow waters remain close to shore, inviting local opposition. One alternative is the floating wind turbine, or what MIT Professor Paul Sclavounos calls the "invisible wind turbine." Using design tools developed for offshore oil rigs, Sclavounos has been designing floating structures for wind turbines that can be towed out and hooked up. Several European companies have just begun scale demonstrations of floating wind turbines. With ocean depth and sea floor geology less of an issue, it is hoped that floating offshore wind technologies will allow us to tap a larger portion of the ocean wind resource. This is especially important for the U.S. Northeast Corridor. With both high population densities and more forested and/or protected mountains than farmland, the opportunity for large, land-based wind installations is small. If the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts are going to have lots of wind-generated electricity, it will need to be offshore.

Explore further: Building a better battery

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Proposed Nantucket wind farm in jeopardy

Apr 08, 2006

A tentative U.S. Senate agreement could give Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the final say on the wind farm project proposed for Nantucket Sound.

Wind power: Obama's promises just hot air so far

Sep 09, 2009

President Barack Obama is still at least a year away from seeing wind turbines take root anywhere off the U.S. coast, even though his administration has promised to make offshore wind a priority, and even though developers ...

Wind energy companies test waters for offshore projects

Jun 24, 2009

The federal government on Tuesday issued its first exploratory leases for wind energy projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, the first step of what could be a race to harness the powerful Atlantic winds not far from major ...

Mass. Cape Wind gets thumbs up, thumbs down

Apr 29, 2010

(AP) -- With federal approval behind them, developers of what would be the nation's first offshore wind farm still have a tough journey ahead before finally producing power in the waters off Cape Cod.

MIT designs 'invisible,' floating wind turbines

Sep 18, 2006

An MIT researcher has a vision: Four hundred huge offshore wind turbines are providing onshore customers with enough electricity to power several hundred thousand homes, and nobody standing onshore can see them. The trick? ...

Recommended for you

Building a better battery

1 hour ago

Imagine an electric car with the range of a Tesla Model S - 265 miles - but at one-fifth the $70,000 price of the luxury sedan. Or a battery able to provide many times more energy than today's technology ...

Researchers find way to turn sawdust into gasoline

5 hours ago

Researchers at KU Leuven's Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis have successfully converted sawdust into building blocks for gasoline. Using a new chemical process, they were able to convert the cellulose ...

Nanodot team aims to charge phones in less than a minute

10 hours ago

The world of smartphone users, which is a very large base indeed, is ripe for better battery solutions and an Israel-based company has an attractive solution in store, in the form of nanodot batteries that ...

Computer to simulate harbor porpoises

Nov 24, 2014

Researchers at Aarhus University, Denmark, use a computer model to predict the impact of new offshore wind farms on the population of harbour porpoises in the North Sea. A consortium of international energy ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tan0r5
not rated yet May 01, 2010
So billions of dollars will be used to pay for an energy system that won't replace the way energy is made now. Cheap power it isn't. Why are they afraid to harvest and convert all wastes to make fuel by friction without burning or chemicals?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.