Offshore Wind in the US Making Steady Progress

Yesterday the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) approved a 15-year PPA for National Grid to purchase the power and RECs generated by Cape Wind. This is yet one more step forward for the 420-MW project, which has been in the works for almost 10 years.

The proceedings show that the DPU recognized the additional benefits that offshore wind power provides, beyond just electricity. One abstract from the approval stated “[I]t is abundantly clear that the Cape Wind facility offers significant benefits that are not currently available from any other renewable resources. We find that these benefits outweigh the costs of the project.”

According to a Cape Wind press release, the decision took six months, including 13 days of evidentiary hearings with testimony from 15 witnesses, 1,362 exhibits and nearly 3,000 transcript pages. The decision was also a political one; many Congressional and Gubenatorial candidates criticised the high cost of the PPA. Even at 18.7 cents per kWh, the utility buyer, National Grid, estimates the average monthly electricity bill will rise by $1.26 per month.

In response to the 10-year legal and regulatory battle that Cape Wind has faced, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar vowed yesterday to fast track future offshore wind projects, much in the same way that he has fast tracked solar energy projects on public lands.  As many as 7 utility-scale solar energy projects were approved for construction on public lands this fall.

According to the associated press, at a speech in Baltimore, MD this afternoon, Salazar highlighted the need to remove some of the permitting obstacles that stand in the way of offshore wind projects. “The Cape Wind lease is an historic milestone in America’s renewable energy future, but to fully harness the economic and energy benefits of our nation’s vast Atlantic wind potential we need to implement a smart permitting process that is efficient, thorough and unburdened by needless red tape,” he said.

Salazar and 11 Atlantic Coast governors established an offshore wind energy consortium in June 2010 to promote the development of offshore wind energy on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Google recently announced that it was investing $5 billion dollars in a transmission backbone to run up and down the Atlantic coast.  The trasmission backbone will enable offshore wind farms to provide power to the population centers near the coast.

With faster permitting, a commitment from 11 governors to pursue it and a transmission backbone in place, offshore wind energy for the eastern seaboard in the U.S. may soon be more than just a pipe dream.

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