Offshore Wind Power Comes to the U.S. at Last

The United States marked an energy milestone this week as construction began on a pilot offshore wind program that will be used to test the economic feasibility of offshore wind energy. According to the Bureau of Energy, some four million megawatts of power lie in wait off the coasts and the shores of regions like the Great Lakes, where wind blusters far stronger than it does on land — and even a few miles an hour makes a big difference with turbines. While it’s unlikely all of that territory will be developed, generating more wind energy will help reduce reliance on coal, helping the United States move towards a clean energy future and more energy independence.

This video from Siemens illustrates how turbines are installed, and provides information about efficiency measures that can help installations go smoothly and rapidly with the right equipment.

Development of wind energy in general, but especially offshore energy, has lagged in the United States. One reason is the sheer cost, as pilot programs are expensive to run and any new technology can be pricey — though nations like Denmark have already illustrated that it’s possible to make wind energy commercially viable. In 2014, 2,488 offshore turbines in 11 farms in Europe generated 8,045 megawatts of energy — enough to meet seven percent of the EU’s energy demand and counting. The Block Island project is suffering from high costs related to poor infrastructure — like a lack of specialized ships equipped for smooth installation of turbines at sea — though the government indicates that it will be providing tax credits and other financial incentives to other pioneering energy companies.

Another issue is regulatory barriers, but, more critically, oppositions from individuals and communities. Many people dislike the thought of seeing energy infrastructure offshore, though wind farms can be as far as three miles out, rather than directly on the horizon. While some may support the idea of offshore wind farms in theory, they don’t want to see it in their backyards — a refrain that may sound familiar. Even in Rhode Island, where the Block Island project is based, not all residents are fans of the program, and this will continue to be an issue across the United States, where some communities have entrenched attitudes about view obstruction. Another project, Cape Wind, has been obstructed by none other than a member of the Koch family, who cites “visual pollution” — and possibly a hit to his bottom line — in his opposition.

17,000 homes will be able to get their power through the Block Island project, the start of what advocates hope will be an energy revolution on the East Coast. Over 50 percent of Americans live on the coasts alone, where some of the nation’s largest cities are located. Offshore farms could make a huge difference in these regions, allowing communities to wean themselves off coal-fired power plants to meet federal energy goals.

While offshore wind farms have tremendous potential, there is one area of concern: interactions between such facilities and local wildlife. The European Wind Energy Association notes that a variety of studies, like this one, indicate that wildlife and wind farms can coexist peacefully — even in light of bird deaths associated with turbines. Furthermore, new bird-friendly wind turbines are being developed.

Given the environmental net benefit of cleaner air and less environmental degradation, we must continue to develop offshore wind farms, especially with robust environmental impact reports to ensure that vulnerable areas like rookeries and homes of endangered species are left in a pristine state, and continue to improve the technologies.

Photo credit: Kim Hansen

68 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you!

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Al H.
Past Member 2 years ago

Touche Joseph. Love your work.

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Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin2 years ago

Sarah H```~```

About 1% of what cats or windows do,

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

How many birds will they kill?

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Rosemary Diehl
Rosemary Diehl2 years ago

I want this to really work so that we can expand it to other areas as well

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell2 years ago

Thank you

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Sara G.
Sara G2 years ago

I am firmly behind anything that will cut down on our use of fossil fuel. But Kamia has a point too, we simply have to get beyond our "consumer mentantality".

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Kamia T.
Kamia T2 years ago

Sorry, I don't herald this as much as others apparently do. Since when do we get to destroy the marine environment so we can have "power?" It's just arrogant. We need to quit looking for ways to produce more and more, and simply bite the bullet by using less and less!

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BMutiny TCorporationsEvil

LEAVE ALL FOSSIL FUELS IN THE GROUND.
82% of Fossil Fuel Reserves must be LEFT IN THE GROUND - 82%! -
if we are to avert Climate CATASTROPHE due to Global Warming.

NO MORE drilling, coal mining, fracking,
and transporting, leaking and spilling and exploding,
and BURNING and spewing into the Atmosphere.
NO MORE exploration for new sources!
This should be Environmentalists' MANTRA:
LEAVE FOSSIL FUELS IN THE GROUND.
==========
Leave the Oil in the Soil
the Coal in the Hole
the Tar Sands in the Land.
Eliminate ALL use and extraction of Dirty Fossil Fuels for Energy, NOW! ASAP

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Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin2 years ago

We should build a ring of wind turbines around the Capitol Building in D.C..

We could power the whole East Coast with that.

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