Offshore Wind: Europe Surges, US Dawdles

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by
The Providence Journal

Offshore Wind: Europe Surges, US Dawdles

by
Charles Kleekamp

SANDWICH, Mass. - Imagine A renewable-energy source so large it can provide enough power for 750,000 homes, or a quarter of all homes in London, especially when the fuel is free. It’s called the London Array, and when built it will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

The first phase of the project, announced May 12, is financed by the DONG Energy, of Denmark, E.ON, of Germany, and Masdar, of Abu Dhabi. The consortium is investing $3.1 billion to push ahead with the first phase of the 1,000-megawatt project this summer. The London Array when complete will use 278 of the Siemens 3.6 MW turbines to be made in Denmark.

Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, said: “The London Array is a flagship project in our drive to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and meet future energy needs. The United Kingdom is a world leader in offshore wind farms, creating jobs and prosperity for the economy.” E.ON chief executive Dr. Wulf Bernotat said: “Renewable power can be taken to its next level and so make a real difference to the fight against climate change.” Once compete it will displace the emission of 2 million tons of carbon dioxide every year.

The United Kingdom has taken the lead from the Danes in the installation of offshore wind farms. Seven of the initial Round 1 projects of modest size with 30 turbines each have been completed since 2003 in near-shore, shallow waters. Names reveal the location, such as Scroby Sands, Kentish Flats and Burbo Bank, to name a few. Five more are nearing completion now, Lynn Skegness, Inner Dowsing, Rhyl Flats, Robin Rigg and Gunfleet Sands.

The more ambitious U.K. Round 2 leases opened in 2003. These wind farms of 100 turbines or more are all in relatively shallow water using slender monopole foundations. Most are within 12 miles of shore. Permits have been granted for the windfarms on Sheringham Shoal, Thanet, Greater Gabbard and Gwynty Mor.

European dominance in wind technology started in Denmark after the 1973 oil embargo. At that time the Danes depended on oil for 90 percent of their electrical generation. “Never again” was their credo. Denmark built their first offshore windfarm at Vindeby in 1991. In a couple of years it will celebrate its 20th anniversary.

The Danes have taken the lead in worldwide wind-turbine technology and manufacturing. One manufacturer, Vestas, produces a large wind turbine every three hours, 24 hours a day for the world market. Now, in addition to over 4,000 land-based wind turbines, the Danes have built eight offshore wind farms on shallow water shoals. With names like Middelgrunden in Copenhagen’s busy harbor, to Horns Rev and Nysted, the world’s two largest offshore wind farms, which are now being doubled in size, and the completely energy-independent Samsoe Island, the message is clear that shallow-water, near-shore windfarms are a mature technology.

Including Sweden, and the Netherlands, 18 offshore windfarms have been built in Europe since Cape Wind announced its plans for America’s first offshore wind farm, in 2001. Ten more are under construction and four additional projects have permits in place.

Offshore turbine manufacturing is dominated by Vestas in Denmark and Siemens of Germany, which acquired the Danish manufacturer BONUS. Between them they have built and installed 546 offshore turbines so far. The Danish utility DONG Energy has just placed a blanket order for 500 of the Siemens 3.6 MW turbines (to be manufactured in Denmark) for its upcoming projects in Northern Europe. This is the same size turbine selected for the Cape Wind Project.

Meanwhile, here we sit with a privileged and powerful few fussing about the view. After eight exhausting years of numerous public hearings, tens of thousands of pages of research and substantiation, thorough reviews by 17 federal, state and local agencies, overcoming eight frivolous law suits and expenditures approaching $30 million, we anxiously await a permit decision from the federal government for the Cape Wind project. Hopefully we will see a favorable “Record of Decision” from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar before winter.

Just think of the manufacturing and employment opportunities in New England if we can open the American market for offshore wind. Vestas alone has over 20,000 employees. That’s about half the size of the restructured General Motors. Those Danish wind turbines could and should be built here.

The Cape Wind project will be the beginning of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and natural gas that are the dominant fossil fuels for electrical generation in New England. Every megawatt-hour of wind power will eliminate the need to generate that same megawatt-hour from oil or natural gas. Overall it will avoid the emission of some 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide from those fossil fuels every year.

Charles Kleekamp, a retired civil engineer who lives in Sandwich, is vice president of Clean Power Now, the leading pro-Cape Wind advocacy group.

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