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DOE Picks Winners for US Offshore Wind Development

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the three pilot projects that will continue to receive DOE funding to design, develop, and deploy their offshore wind technologies and processes. Each will receive up to another $47 million over the next four years to push their projects to fruition and commercial operation by 2017.

David Danielson, the DOE's Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, revealed the winners today at the AWEA Windpower conference in Las Vegas. The DOE had been expected to announce its downselects later this month, but making the announcement at the wind power industry's annual domestic get-together seems more logical.

The three winning projects are:

  • Fishermen's Atlantic City Windfarm, Fishermen's Energy, New Jersey: This project will install five 5-MW direct-drive turbines in 36 foot depths about three nautical miles off of Atlantic City. It will incorporate a twisted jacket foundation to simplify construction and installation and lower costs; it's working on ways to extend construction hours and reduce construction noise. Fishermen's also is using scanning LIDAR technology to assess wind profiles.
  • WindFloat Pacific, Principle Power, Oregon: This project about 18 miles off Coos Bay in 1,000-foot depths incorporates a semi-submersible floating foundation similar to one already deployed off the coast of Portugal. The floating platform can be mass-produced and completely assembled onshore, then towed out to the site, ballasted, and attached to preinstalled anchors and cabling -- which translates to using smaller vessels, reduced installation time, time, and saving costs. This project also will use floating LIDAR, as well as cables not typically seen in wind farms that float beneath the surface between the platforms instead of stretching down to the bottom and then over.
  • Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advanced Project, Dominion, Virginia: This project, encompassing two 6-MW direct-drive turbines about 20 nautical miles offshore in 50 feet of water, represents far-from-the-shorline development for offhshore wind. It also will incoporate a twisted-jacket foundation, designed here in the U.S., as well as a hurricane-resilient design. Dominion also is looking at high-voltage cables that can be smaller-diameter and less-expensive.

Additionally, the DOE said two other projects represent "innovative approaches" that it wants to see further developed: Aqua Ventus/U. of Maine with concrete semi-submersible foundations instead of steel, and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.'s (LEEDCo) project with its monopile foundation designed to reduce ice loading. The DOE says it will "continue to work with these teams to advance their designs to deployment readiness." Missing from the DOE's list entirely is the Baryonyx project in Texas, which has been seeking to put three 6-MW turbines at 60-foot depths about five nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico, utilizing jacket foundations that use less steel and new blade designs from Texas A&M.

The DOE's downselect is generally viewed as critical for the future of the six offshore wind pilot programs, which originally received $4 million each in DOE funding in 2012 (here's a refresher) to pursue offshore wind development with both existing and new technologies and practices to make offshore wind energy more feasible in the U.S., from streamlined construction and installation methods to floating foundations to site-specific performance adjustments. (A seventh original pilot project, a floating-spar design led by Statoil in Maine which had a PPA in hand, was eventually cancelled after state-level political maneuverings, though the company has said it might still pursue offshore wind in the U.S.) Fishermen's Energy, for example, invoked the importance of DOE support when the state's Board of Public Utiliites (BPU) rejected the long-proposed project just weeks ago; the two sides are now headed to court, while the group behind the Fishermen's project eyes similar work in other states, most notably Maryland. The Baryonyx wind project recently obtained financial commitments from the state, but it was contingent on getting this further DOE funding.

The DOE has calculated more than 4,000 GW of offshore wind energy resource potential in the U.S., and dreams of more than 50 GW being developed over the next few decades. Offshore wind energy has a key advantage of being much closer to the load centers that need it, avoiding enormous transmission costs and complexities (and efficiency losses). However, offshore development has its own unique challenges, including de-risking some new technologies and securing financing to build out the fledgling domestic industry.

These DOE-backed projects are on a 2017 timeline, but first the U.S. offshore wind sector needs to focus on quickly getting steel in the water for the two utility-scale offshore wind projects long in progress -- to show that the technology works, clarify and manage expectations of real-world cost and performance, and ease the economic burden for other projects going forward. The ~450-MW Cape Wind project, which just won its 26th legal challenge (plus a judge's sharp rebuke against the project's opponents for abusing the court system) is in the final stages of securing financing and hopes to ramp construction shortly off the Massachusetts coast. Meanwhile, Deepwater Wind in neighboring Rhode Island is also in the early stages of construction for its initial 30-MW project, with eyes on a gigawatt-scale expansion.

Lead image: Wind turbine on the beach and reflections, via Shutterstock

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