New National Offshore Wind Strategy that drives deployment for offshore wind tech- is great for Maine

by Ramona du Houx

In September, 2016 U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the publication of a collaborative strategic plan to continue accelerating the development of offshore wind energy in the United States, the National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,which could help enable 86 gigawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2050. The strategy details the current state of offshore wind in the United States, presents the actions and innovations needed to reduce deployment costs and timelines, and provides a roadmap to support the growth and success of the industry.

 This new wind energy strategy is a part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan that will create American jobs and cut carbon pollution by developing America's clean energy resources.

The strategy builds on DOE and DOI’s first joint offshore wind strategy, published in 2011. Since then, the Energy Department has allocated nearly $200 million to support three cutting-edge offshore wind demonstration projects led by the University of Maine, New Jersey’s Fishermen’s Energy, and Ohio’s Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, and research and development investments in technologies that specifically address the opportunities and challenges across U.S. waters.

Maine’s New England Aqua Ventus I floating offshore wind demonstration project, designed by a University of Maine-led consortium. (photo right)

The DOE, under the leadership of its former Secretary Steven Chu, started this national program to develop an offshore wind industry strategy because about 80 percent of power electricity demand occurs in coastal states where off-shore winds are abundant. Those winds are the Northeast’s greatest untapped renewable energy resource, and the University of Maine is at the forefront of the research and development that will capture them.

“We appreciate the DOE’s vote of confidence in the VolturnUS floating concrete technology. With 12 independent cost estimates from around the U.S., the VolturnUS floating hull technology has been found to significantly reduce costs compared to existing floating systems. The design has also received a complete third-party engineering review. We look forward to successfully building the two-turbines demonstration project, and to helping start a whole new clean energy industry,” said Dr. Habib Dagher, who leads the Aqua Ventus project.

The Aqua Ventus project is unique because it’s a floating concrete wind platform that houses the composite wind turbines, all constructed in Maine. These floating platforms will be far out to sea in the deepest waters with cables anchoring them to the ocean floor. Why offshore wind— The Gulf of Maine coastal waters could generate the power equivalent to over 100 nuclear power plants, according to NOAA.

Offshore wind represents a large, untapped energy resource for the United States— offering over 4,000 gigawatts of clean, domestic electricity potential, four times the nation’s current total generation capacity.

According to a report commissioned by the DOE, a U.S. offshore wind industry that takes advantage of this abundant domestic resource could support up to 200,000 manufacturing, construction, operation and supply chain jobs across the country and drive over $70 billion in annual investments by 2030.

When Dr. Dagher first learned that there were 100 nuclear power plants worth of wind energy that could be harnessed in the Gulf of Maine he went to work on a plan that would help Maine capture the free abundant energy. As a result UMaine has been developing the technology, which will result in the most efficient cost effective composite floating wind farm in the world.

Dr. Dagher talking with Gov. John Baldacci at the Capitol about UMaine's offshore wind project in 2008. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Dr. Dagher contacted the Baldacci administration and set the wheels in motion for new wind power laws, which resulted with the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) setting standards and goals. This all pointed the direction for when the electricity became available to supply to Maine households, businesses and beyond. The goal—to get Maine off fossil fuel consumption and to export the excess energy to neighboring states. During an International Trade Mission Gov. Baldacci, Dr. Dagher and some of his team went to Norway to see a potential design for the UMaine project. There, UMaine signed a Memorandum of Understanding to share technologies, which has proven beneficial to both countries. Then Gov. John Baldacci went further, ensuring the project would receive research and development grants, which voters approved in the form of bonds distributed through the Maine Technology Institute. This gave the federal government confidence to invest in UMaine’s technology, thus starting the potential of earning up to $50 million in DOE grant development.

Baldacci and the Congressional delegation lobbied for the grants and Sec. Chu visited Maine to see the facility first hand. He came away from UMaine saying, “I’m impressed.” Then federal grants started to roll in.

Now the DOE is stepping up efforts in offshore wind technology.

“This Administration has made significant investments in clean energy technologies, supporting a diversified energy portfolio to help meet our Climate Action Plan goal of permitting 20,000 MW of renewable electricity generation on public lands and waters by 2020,” said Secretary Jewell. “Thanks to involvement by partners at all levels of government, community stakeholders, tribes and the public, we've been able to stand up the first federal offshore wind energy program in the history of the U.S. and we are confident the strategy we're outlining today will chart a course for additional investment in clean energy technologies that can help power America's future.”

Since 2010, the Department of the Interior has issued 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development, nine of which generated approximately $16 million through competitive lease sales and covered more than one million acres of federal waters.

“Offshore wind has experienced enormous progress during the Obama administration. The first offshore wind farm has now finished construction, and we have gone from zero offshore wind areas leased before this administration to eleven areas that total the size of Rhode Island,” said Energy Secretary Moniz. “Today’s collaborative strategic plan is part of a long-term commitment to support innovation that enables widespread offshore wind deployment and shows how offshore wind will benefit our country with new jobs, less pollution, and a more diversified electricity mix.”

The National Offshore Wind Strategy identifies key challenges facing the industry and more than 30 specific actions that DOE and DOI can take over the next five years to address those challenges.

These actions fall into three strategic areas:

  1. Reducing technical costs and risks. DOI proposes the joint development of standard data collection guidelines to foster predictability and inform safe project development  and DOE will work to increase annual energy production and reliability of offshore wind plants.
  2. Supporting effective stewardship. DOI commits to numerous actions to ensure that the regulatory process is predictable, transparent, efficient and informed by lessons learned from regulators in other countries. Additionally, as the first generation of installed projects come online, DOI and DOE will collect field data on parts of offshore development including impacts on marine life and turbine radar interference in order to support future offshore wind siting and plan reviews.
  3. Improving the market conditions for investment in offshore wind energy. Studies are needed help quantify the broad grid integration impacts of adding significant amounts of offshore wind energy to the power system. Such information could significantly benefit the offshore wind community by informing state policies critical to supporting development.

DOE has found that developing 86,000 MW of these offshore wind energy resources by 2050 would support 160,000 jobs, reduce power sector water consumption by 5 percent, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8 percent.