More Progress for Offshore Wind: DOE Awards and Whale Protections

May 7, 2014
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

With yesterday’s release of the latest National Climate Assessment fresh in our minds, we see offshore wind readying itself for the what-we-can-do-about-it piece. Two announcements today touch on important aspects of the path forward for offshore wind: funding and wildlife impacts.

Building Offshore Wind

The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that three offshore demonstration projects would get the next level of federal support, in the form of project funding of up to $47 million each.

The three winners are appreciably different, with sizes ranging from 12 to 30 megawatts (each using impressive 5- or 6-MW turbines), and locations ranging from three miles offshore (near Atlantic City, NJ) to 26 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach, VA.

Each of the projects will introduce technical innovations. The fact that the East Coast has shallower waters for a longer distance means that two of the projects can have turbine structures connected directly to the seabed. In this case, though, the two eastern projects will try “twisted jacket” foundations, where three legs twist around a central column, which is potentially easier to manufacture and maintain.

The West Coast requires some different thinking; the project off Coos Bay, OR, will use a “semi-submersible floating foundation”, with mooring lines and anchors, allowing installation in deeper water than would otherwise be possible.

The projects are also noteworthy for the diversity of entities involved. Fishermen’s Energy, as the name suggests, grew out of the offshore world. Principle Power has piloted its offshore wind concept in Europe. Dominion is a big owner of electricity and natural gas infrastructure, including tens of thousands of megawatts of generating capacity, for whom this will be a first foray into offshore renewables.

So a few more opportunities to make offshore wind a reality in the U.S. are moving forward.

Building Offshore Wind Right

Offshore wind will be a much more powerful tool for mitigating climate change — and climate’s impacts on wildlife — if the technology and the developers can address upfront as many concerns as possible about direct impacts to wildlife.

So also noteworthy today is news that important ocean-protection groups have reached an agreement with a leading offshore wind developer on how best to protect North Atlantic right whales:

A coalition of leading environmental and conservation organizations — Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) — and Deepwater Wind today announced an agreement to implement additional protections for endangered North Atlantic right whales during pre-construction activities for the Deepwater ONE offshore wind farm, which will be developed off the Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts.

The agreement includes seasonal restrictions on certain of Deepwater’s activities, such as pile-driving, to help protect right whales from disturbances while they are most vulnerable. It also includes monitoring of impacts, and “adaptive management review” to see what mid-course corrections newer science might call for.

Building a Cleaner Energy Future

As the National Climate Assessment makes clear, cutting emissions is a key part of “improve[ing] public health, economic development, ecosystem protection, and quality of life” in the face of climate change.

Offshore wind can and should be a piece of the energy transformation that will help us address climate change. Days like today help make that piece a little clearer.

About the author

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John Rogers is a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.