Corry Westbrook is an environmental journalist. She was legislative director for National Wildlife Federation for nine years, federal policy director at Oceana for two years and previously worked for the Environmental Protection Agency. She has a MA from George Washington University in Environmental and Natural Resource Management and has worked on policy and legislation to slow climate change for over a decade; including leading efforts to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009.
OFFSHORE WIND POWER OFFERS MORE ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS and fewer negative impacts then nuclear power, natural gas, coal and oil. Offshore wind power generation will not cause explosions, water pollution, earthquakes, expensive waste storage problems, air pollution or contribute to ocean acidification or global warming.
Investing in offshore wind would also eliminate the need to drill off the Atlantic coast, as well as oil and gas exploration through seismic testing which the Florida Department of Environmental Protection officially opposes (1).
Countries, such as the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany have built turbine farms off their coastlines; while the US industry struggles due to economic conditions, environmental concerns, bureaucratic problems and political opposition (2). However, this is changing since ecological studies indicate that carefully planned wind farms should not significantly harm birds or marine mammals and business and politicians are increasingly interested in offshore wind power (2). This is very good news because US offshore wind has the capacity to generate an estimated 4,200 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, enough to supply four times what the nation currently uses (2 and 3).
Offshore wind blows harder and more uniformly than onshore and 53% of Americans live near the coast (3). For the Atlantic coastal states, investment in offshore wind potentially includes: wind supplying almost half the current electricity generation on the East Coast; Delaware, Massachusetts and North Carolina could generate enough electricity from wind to equal current electricity generation, eliminating the need for fossil fuel based power; and New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina could supply 92%, 83% and 64% of their current electricity from wind (4).
Florida’s wind potential is low compared to the other Atlantic coastal states, only New York and Georgia have less, but even the production of only 10.3 GW would provide 16% of electricity and replace all petroleum use and half the coal use in Florida’s electric industry (5). The production of 10.3 GW would power approximately 3.1 million Florida homes annually, about half the houses in the state, and replace 24.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (4). Only Texas, California and Pennsylvania produce more carbon dioxide then Florida (5).
Offshore wind energy would be good for Florida’s economy, producing 10.3 GW would produce approximately 10,200 to 17,300 permanent jobs in Florida and represent over $24 billion in clean energy investment in the state (4 and 11).
As of April 2015, Floridians average $1,900 per year on electricity or $158 a month or 11.7 cents/kWh and rank 33 out of 50, meaning 17 states pay more for electricity on average and 32 pay less (5). Offshore wind would cost approximately 13.1 cent/kWh in Florida (4). A 1.4 cents/kWh increase seems a small price to pay to protect our environment, public health and help secure the future for our children, and the cost would go down as technology improves and infrastructure is established.
So why do we not have offshore wind production in Florida? The same reasons there are currently no functioning offshore wind turbines, except a few experimental, in the US (2 and 4).
Current federal and state policies focus on increasing renewable energy generation and not the supply-chain and infrastructure needed to create a robust industry (4). There are not enough offshore wind turbine manufacturers, engineers and installation ships to install already planned projects (4). Companies in Denmark and Germany manufacture 90% of turbines and none are produced in the USA (4). Only a handful of wind farm installation companies exist, with Denmark installing over 60% of the world’s offshore wind turbines with a fleet of four installation vessels (4). These four vessels installed 91 turbines in just over 183 days in Denmark in 2009. Turbine vessels come primarily from the offshore oil and gas industry (4). With oil prices so low it might be a good time to put under-used barges to work.
The United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and Sweden generate the most, in that order, of offshore wind energy (2). Electricity for six percent (1.55 million) homes in the UK comes from offshore wind (6).
The US might be behind on the business side of the offshore wind industry but it is making advances in technology. Advancement in floating platform turbines could be a game-changer as the turbines can go out farther away from the shorelines where the wind is stronger and prevents views from being obstructed. The US Department of Energy calls floating wind the future of offshore wind because over 60 percent of US offshore wind resources blow over deep water (7).
Hexicon’s Floating Wind Platform
(Hexagon AB is a global technology group headquartered in Sweden)
Principal Power, based in Washington state, secured $47 million in federal funding to test turbines potential 29 kilometers (18 miles) off the coast and it has partnered with Rhode Island-based offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind to tether platforms for five 6-megawatt turbines in over 300 meters of water (7). Floating platforms will help address the concern people have regarding wind turbines blocking their ocean view. A 6 foot person standing on the beach can only see 3 miles out and a person standing on a hotel balcony on the 20th floor can only see 18 miles out (8).
Floating turbines also offer potential cost savings. Floating platforms and their turbines are fully manufactured on shore, then towed out and tethered to the seabed (7). By contrast, fixing foundations to the seabed and then bolting on massive turbines requires specialized vessels, which cost upwards of $200,000 per day to rent (7).
Another concern for offshore wind is the impacts to birds, fish and other marine wildlife. However, research shows few significant impacts on the vast majority of wildlife and ecosystems from offshore wind farms and many impacts that will occur can be mitigated (2 and 9). Construction and decommissioning present the greatest risk but these are temporary and impacts can be reduced (4). Correct monitoring, spacing, using jet blows for undersea electric cable installation, utilizing low/diffused light, slowing ships and stopping turbines during important migrations can go far in protecting wildlife (4).
When the impacts to wildlife from offshore wind are compared to those from oil spills and explosions, seismic airgun testing, ocean acidification and climate change, there really is no comparison as to which energy source is better for people and wildlife.
Many valuable lessons were learned from the infamous Cape Wind project, being developed by Energy Management of Boston, Massachusetts (2). No project summarizes the challenges facing offshore wind power better than Cape Wind. The project plans to take advantage of the strong winds and calm waters of Nantucket Sound near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Cape Wind will consist of 130 turbines, each standing nearly 262 feet tall, over an area of 65 square kilometers (2). The completed wind farm will have a capacity of 468 megawatts, able to produce 75% of the electricity for Cape Cod and the nearby islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket (2).
But the project has faced strong opposition for more than a decade. Organizations including the non-profit group Save Our Sound have brought dozens of lawsuits against Cape Wind (2). The lawsuits claim the project would harm birds and other wildlife, increase electricity rates for consumers and endanger planes flying into local airspace. However, except for one temporary decision, all of the judicial rulings have been in favor of Cape Wind (2). Cape Wind plans construction to begin in 2015 but is plagued by finance problems and its outcome remains to be seen (13).
It can be hard going first and Cape Wind has helped the industry as a whole in many ways. In fact, Cape Wind broke new ground by being the first US offshore wind project to complete a major environmental assessment (2). The study is thousands of pages long and independent analyses have helped to appease some groups concerns regarding the initial proposal (2).
For example, Mass Audubon in Lincoln, Massachusetts, spent three years tracking roseate terns (Sterna dougallii), migratory songbirds and sea ducks wintering in the area, and found little cause for concern (2). The songbirds typically fly above 900 feet, making collisions unlikely and terns and ducks stay close to shore during migration and breeding (2). And the average cost for electricity in Massachusetts is 17.7 cents/kWh with wind eventually expected to average 11.3 cents/kWh alleviating fears of increased rates (4).
With lessons learned from Cape Wind and in Europe, advances in technology and economies of scale, we know offshore wind can provide clean, safe and inexpensive energy for Florida and our nation. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has held several competitive lease sale for renewable energy in federal waters along the Atlantic coast as part of the comprehensive Climate Action Plan (12).
Congress can take steps to ensure the generation of offshore wind energy by increasing and making permeant the tax credit for investment in advanced energy outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act and expanding these tax credits to manufacturers of offshore wind turbines and turbine installation vessels (4). Congress can increase and make permanent the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program for opening, expanding or modernizing facilities to manufacture turbines and installation vessels (4). We also need a national, or at least a Florida state-wide, Renewable Electricity Standard to encourage investment in alternative energy.
In regard to costs, it is important to note that once the infrastructure is in place the costs will go down since the energy source is free. Another thing to consider is that big oil does not want alternative energy expanded and uses it considerable political power to keep as uneven a playing field as possible. The 2013 profit totals for the big five oil companies were a combined total of $93 billion and these companies retained their $2.4 billion-per-year tax breaks (10). Congress should halt all tax breaks and subsidies to big oil, as they are already established and profitable companies, and switch them over to renewable energy until such time as renewable energy is the predominate energy used in the country.
For the sake of our economy, planet and future, it is time to move away from harmful, dangerous energy and embrace offshore wind.
- Mahan, Pearlman and Savitz. Oceana report entitled “Untapped Wealth: Offshore Wind Can Deliver Cleaner, More Affordable Energy and More Jobs Than Offshore Oil,” September 2010.
- British Wind Energy Association (2008 October). “Today’s Investment – Tomorrow’s Asset: skills and employment in the Wind, Wave and Tidal Sectors,” SQW Energy [http://www.bwea.com/pdf/publications/BWEA%20Skills%20Report%20FINAL%2016oct.pdf].
- Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today held the nation’s third competitive lease sale for renewable energy in federal waters, which offered nearly 80,000 acres offshore Maryland for potential wind energyhttp://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-hollingsworth/mass-stuck-113m-marine-terminal-built-failed-offshore-wind-farm