10 Nov 2010

Race heats up to build U.S. East Coast offshore wind farms

Written by Jim Pierobon

With Maryland’s announcement this week of the progress it’s making to attract 1 GIGAwatt’s worth of wind energy capacity ( or 1,000 megawatts, equal to about 300 turbines) offshore at Ocean City, the Free State joins Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts in the race to become a hub of wind energy deployment and manfucturing on the U.S. East Coast.

The Federal government has issued both a Request for Interest and a map of the offshore wind leasing area in federal waters adjacent to Maryland’s Atlantic Coast.  The announcement makes Maryland only the second state in the nation to reach this milestone. Massachusetts reportedly is the other.

With thousands of construction and permanent jobs hanging in the balance, to back up its commitment to clean energy, Maryland has offered to purchase 55 megawatts of offshore wind. Delaware’s Public Service Commission has authorized its utilities to purchase 200 megawatts.

This follows the signing by New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie of the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act . The Act directs the state’s Board of Public Utilities to establish an offshore renewable energy certificate program that calls for a percentage of electricity sold in the state to be from offshore wind energy. The act would support the development of at least 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity.

All of these manueverings should send a clear signal to wind energy developers and manufacturers that the market is embracing wind, especially after the now infamous debate over wind turbines offshore at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After eight years of scoping, studying, permitting, legislating and legal wrangling, the United States in October 2010 signed its first-ever commercial lease for the “Cape Wind” offshore project on the Federal Outer Continental Shelf.

The areas in blue and red are best for offshore wind. Image: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

The 468-megawatt Cape Wind project is to have an average output of 182 megawatts, or 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island combined.

A report released last year by the Interior Department said shallow-water offshore wind farms could supply as much as 20% of the electricity in most coastal states. The map at left shows how the upper East Coast compares to other U.S. coastlines.

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