Offshore, Project Development

Offshore Score since 2001: Europe 24, U.S. 0

There are those who believe that the permitting process for the Cape Wind project is moving too fast, who regard the first offshore wind farm proposal in the U.S. with the same caution one might apply to the introduction of a new, unproven line of pharmaceuticals. There are also those who cannot comprehend the ponderous nature of our permitting process, having answered half a generation ago those questions that many in America still insist are untested and unresolved.

This latter group principally consists of those involved in wind power development in Europe, where near-offshore wind has been used successfully and continuously for over fifteen years to generate electricity. And little wonder that they are perplexed; since Cape Wind was officially proposed, late in 2001, no fewer than thirteen wind farms have been completed in Northern Europe, with a further eleven now under construction or in the contracting stage.

In the UK, the average interval between proposal and permitting of a new wind farm is some eight months (yes, months and not years), largely because the ‘programmatic’ issues of site selection and environmental/wildlife protection have long been understood.

For Europeans, a full generation ahead of [the U.S.] in offshore wind development, there is nothing ‘experimental’ about the technology. They’re at the top of the ninth while we’re still looking for the dugout.

So while some of us have been busily raising tens of millions of dollars to quash this country’s first significant [near-offshore] renewable energy facility, the Northern European near-offshore wind farm scorecard reads like this:

British farms: 4, total capacity 300MW, completed since 2001; 5, total capacity 388MW, in construction (including one deep water test site); 2, total capacity 270MW, to start construction this year

Irish farm: 1, total capacity 25MW, completed since 2001

Swedish farms: 2, total capacity 20MW, completed since 2001; 1, total capacity 110MW, under contract

Dutch farms: 1, total capacity 108MW, completed since 2001; 1, total capacity 120MW, to start construction next year

Danish farms: 4, total capacity 389MW, completed since 2001; 2, total capacity 400MW, under contract

Nor were these the first leaps into the wind for some of these countries: the UK, Sweden and Denmark all had land- or sea-based wind farms in operation before the turn of the century. And in achieving the above results, Denmark forswore nuclear power in 1985 and banned new coal-fired plants in 1995.

The UK now has advanced to the playoffs. Having subsidized the first round of wind farms with Government grants, the country is moving into a second, unsubsidized round, a clear indicator that the British consider wind farms commercially viable. This round will include two projects in the Thames estuary delivering a total of 1300MW (three times the planned output of Cape Wind, and enough to power a third of London’s three million households).

The Danish route to world leadership in wind energy is a study in national determination. In 1973, Denmark generated 90% of its electricity from imported oil. After the OPEC oil embargo, the country committed itself to wind energy, building turbines first on land, then-from 1991-at sea. A little over two decades after the oil crisis, in 1997, Denmark achieved total energy independence. Today, with six offshore projects in operation, the country meets 18.5% of its domestic power needs from wind.

That’s the equivalent of powering the state of Rhode Island with all of its generated electricity from wind alone.

As a sidebar, Nantucket Island residents might note that the Danes erected ten turbines off Samsø Island in 2003, making the island self-sufficient in electricity and carbon neutral. Samsø is the same size as Nantucket.

Issuing a challenge to the United States to match European determination in the battle against global warming, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called on the U.S. to follow the European Union’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% by the year 2050. For Europe, this commitment will require the bloc to derive one fifth of its energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020.

For the U.S., to get on the scorecard at all, it will mean a change in team management; President Bush has already rejected Chancellor Merkel’s call for specific emissions reductions, instead setting ‘aspirational’ non-binding goals by individual nations. And second, if we don’t have the same level of determination in our national character as the Europeans, we belong in the Bush league (pun intended).

Chris Stimpson and Charles Kleekamp are on the Board of Directors of Clean Power Now. Stimpson is the Executive Campaigner and Activist for the Solar Nation advocacy group (solar-nation.org). He performs secretarial duties for Clean Power Now, and lends his creative skills to the advertising and publicity efforts of the organization.

Kleekamp is a founding director and Vice-President of Cape Clean Air, a citizen advocacy group whose mission is to engage the public and inform citizens about the health impacts of power plant emissions. He is also the Information Director of Clean Power Now.