Report: Enough wind offshore to electrify America

Wind power offshore can equal the present capacity of all landed power plants. U.S. Dept. of Energy report is another big leap forward for Cape Wind

T here is as much wind power potential (900,000 megawatts) off our coasts as the current capacity of all power plants in the United States combined, according to a new report entitled, A Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, and General Electric.

And the greatest wind resources are off the Northeast Coasts

The Framework report finds the greatest wind power potential offshore the highly-populated urban coastal areas of the northeast and it recognizes the roles of Cape Wind and the Long Island offshore wind project in creating the momentum to develop offshore wind power in the United States. The three passages below are examples of these points being made in the Framework:

  1. The United States is getting started with two serious project proposals located off the coasts of Massachusetts and New York. Sustaining and building on this momentum will require leadership and the collective action of all interested parties.
  2. “Most of the total potential offshore wind resources exist relatively close to major urban load centers, where high energy costs prevail and where opportunities for wind development on land are limited. This is especially true in the densely populated Northeast, where nearly one-fifth of that national populations lives on less than 2% of the total land area.
  3. Offshore wind energy is also an attractive option for the Northeast because slightly more than half the country’s offshore wind potential is located off the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts, where water depths generally deepen gradually with distance from shore. This attribute allows for the initial development of offshore wind in relatively shallow waters followed by a transition to deeper waters further for shore as the technology is advanced.”

Jim Gordon, the President of Cape Wind, was pleased to see the Framework’s recognition of the role that offshore wind can play in addressing key national priorities, saying, “The Framework recognizes that offshore wind can meet a significant share of the energy requirements of the Northeast while helping to diversify our energy sources, protect public health and the environment, create jobs, help stabilize energy prices and make us more energy independent.” Gordon continued, “Cape Wind will help to catalyze America’s use of offshore wind to become a major supply of energy for the Northeast.”

“In January, 2004, New England came dangerously close to experiencing a blackout during a severe cold spell as a result of limited natural gas supplies being diverted away from electricity generating plants to meet demands for home heating. Those in charge of managing New England’s electric grid are uncertain how the region will continue to meet peak demand for electricity beyond the year 2006. Offshore wind is the Northeast’s only local renewable energy source with the potential to address the anticipated unmet demand.”

Finding: Offshore wind is a good source of needed electricity for New England

The Framework notes the beneficial role offshore wind can play in supplying needed electricity to New England:

“In January, 2004, New England came dangerously close to experiencing a blackout during a severe cold spell as a result of limited natural gas supplies being diverted away from electricity generating plants to meet demands for home heating. Those in charge of managing New England’s electric grid are uncertain how the region will continue to meet peak demand for electricity beyond the year 2006. Offshore wind is the Northeast’s only local renewable energy source with the potential to address the anticipated unmet demand.”

A prior Department of Energy White Paper entitled, Natural Gas in the New England Region: Implications for Offshore Wind Generation and Fuel Diversity, noted that, “During the January 14-16, 2004 period of natural gas shortage, the Cape Wind project, if it had been fully constructed and was online, would have made a significant contribution to the power supply and reliability of the regional grid.”

Finding: Offshore wind will provide fuel diversity and price stability to Northeast

The Framework cites the need for offshore wind in the Northeast for energy diversification and energy price stability:

“Conventional energy prices are expected to climb. Energy supply and price volatility are significant risks as well, if recent experience with oil, gas, and coal is any indication. The Northeast is particularly vulnerable because the region has virtually no indigenous supply of natural gas and oil, which are responsible for a large fraction of the region’s base electric load and the majority of its peaking capability. As the Northeast seeks indigenous alternatives to oil and natural gas, offshore wind is the most promising option…”

“Besides its demonstrated cost competitiveness on-shore, wind is an attractive energy option because it is a clean, indigenous, and non-depletable resource, with long-term environmental and public health benefits. Once a wind plant is built, the cost of energy is known and not affected by fuel market price volatility. This, along with its economic benefits in terms of employment through manufacturing, construction and operational support, makes wind an attractive technology with which to diversify the nation’s power portfolio and help relieve the pressure on natural gas prices.”

Finding: Offshore wind can improve ocean health

The Framework recognizes how offshore wind energy development can improve ocean health:

“Earth’s oceans and atmosphere are both in peril. As recent studies document, our oceans face a greater array of problems than ever before in history. In particular, unprecedented concentrations of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other emissions resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels threaten to alter the composition of the atmosphere and undermine the integrity of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. An aggressive push for renewable energy production will start us down a path to reducing these environmental and public health threats.”

The Framework follows passage of the Energy Bill

The Framework comes on the heels of the passage of the Energy Bill that has important impacts on the development of offshore wind in the United States. In passing the Energy Bill, the Congress and the President conferred to the Minerals Management Service of the Department of Interior the authority to lease submerged federal lands for commercial offshore wind development. The Congress and the President also included in the Energy Bill a policy objective for the Department of the Interior to approve 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy projects on public lands over the next ten years.

“A Framework for Offshore Wind Energy Development in the United States” is available on the Internet here.

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