Wind energy companies test waters for offshore projects

By Renee Schoof

McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON
— 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 population centers on the East Coast.

The leases will
allow wind companies to build testing stations on federal land off the
New Jersey and Delaware coasts. Research already has shown that the
Northeast has relatively shallow water and few strong hurricanes, which
make it a good candidate for existing offshore wind technology.

The
U.S. so far produces no electricity from offshore winds, putting it far
behind the United Kingdom, Denmark and other northern European
countries that have been developing offshore wind for nearly 20 years.

“We
are entering a new day for energy production in the United States — a
time of clean energy from renewable domestic sources on our Outer
Continental Shelf,” Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said in a
statement.

“Other nations have been using offshore wind energy
for more than a decade,” Salazar said. “We made the development of
offshore wind energy a top priority for Interior. The technology is
proven, effective and available and can create new jobs for Americans
while reducing our expensive and dangerous dependence on foreign oil.”

Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden are the world’s largest producers of electricity from offshore winds.

The
exploratory leases would allow wind companies to measure wind speed and
intensity and other factors from towers built six to 18 miles offshore.
The next steps would be to apply for a permit for a test turbine, and
then there would be more government reviews before they could construct
turbines, a process that could take several years or more, said
Interior spokesman Frank Quimby.

The leases went to Bluewater
Wind New Jersey Energy; Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey; Deepwater
Wind and Bluewater Wind Delaware.

Willett Kempton, a professor at
the University of Delaware College of Earth, Ocean and Environment,
lead a study in 2007 that examined the wind potential from North
Carolina to Massachusetts.

The study, which appeared in
Geophysical Research Letters, found that if wind was tapped offshore
with turbines in water up to 100 meters (330 feet) deep, which is just
within technological reach, the coastal states would produce enough
electricity to satisfy all electrical needs, power all light vehicles
and replace heating fuel for all buildings.

According to Kempton, Delaware’s average offshore winds have the potential to power between 1.2 million and 1.5 million homes.

Kempton
said the leases Salazar announced were “the first concrete step of the
development of what I believe will be a very large industry in the
Northeast initially and then around the coastal regions of the country.”

Texas,
already the No. 1 wind state, has been working since 2005 to be the
first state with offshore wind as well. Texas waters extend seven miles
offshore, unlike the three-mile limit in other states. The state
granted five exploratory leases in 2005 to a Louisiana company, Wind
Energy Systems Technology, which built a scientific measurements tower
seven miles off Galveston. As yet, not electric production has begun.

Kempton
said that existing technology doesn’t allow for turbines that could
withstand Category 5 hurricanes because it was developed in Denmark,
where they’re not an issue, but such turbines could be built, he said.
“It’s not that hard to engineer.”

Cape Wind, a wind farm planned
off Cape Cod, Mass., is still under review by the Minerals Management
Service of the Interior Department.


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