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Offshore wind power conference will cap an active year

By Carl Levesque

When the offshore segment of the wind power industry gathers this October in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the North American Offshore Wind Conference & Exhibition of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the event will cap an active year in the U.S. offshore wind power movement.

Perhaps receiving the most press coverage during the last several months was the closely watched Cape Wind project, which recently reached a pair of important milestones. Still, the wind farm proposed off the coast of Massachusetts was, by no means, the only project making progress in recent months, underscoring that offshore wind power soon will be generating not just news coverage, but electrons as well.

One indication of how the industry is ramping up is that talk has turned to, quite literally, nuts and bolts-that is, how to develop a robust offshore wind power supply chain to meet the soon-to-come demand. That conversation was, in fact, a fairly prominent feature of AWEA's Offshore Workshop this past December.

Clearly, an aggressive ramp-up of the offshore supply chain in the U.S. is in order. As for land-based wind power, the manufacturing side of the industry has added, announced, or expanded over 100 facilities since 2007. The can-do attitude within the industry is, therefore,

"We've done it before; we'll do it again." So it's appropriate that the offshore event in Atlantic City will include an entire supply chain component.

Following is a look at just some of the projects and progress driving such buzz.

In April, offshore wind power caught the attention of the mainstream press when, in a highly anticipated decision, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved the offshore Cape Wind project, planned for federal waters off the coast of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The facility, which could be the first U.S. offshore wind farm, would generate enough power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Island combined.

Salazar's approval is a sign-off on the project by the federal government, although it is conditional on the developer meeting certain requirements and attaining additional permits.

More good news came just a few weeks later when utility owner National Grid plc and Cape Wind filed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with state regulators for the utility owner to buy electricity from the offshore facility. Under the terms of the contract, National Grid would begin taking electricity from the wind farm in 2013. Also this spring, the project, which has been in the works for years, became all the more concrete when Cape Wind placed an order for 130 Siemens 3.6-MW wind turbines for the offshore facility.

While Cape Wind keeps garnering the headlines, other offshore projects and initiatives have also made steady progress. The very first offshore Power Purchase Agreement, in fact, came way back in 2008, when Bluewater Wind (now NRG Bluewater Wind) signed a 25-year contract with utility Delmarva Power for up to 200 MW from the wind farm that NRG Bluewater has proposed to build 11.5 miles off the coast of Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. That project continues to progress; in April the Department of Interior issued a Request for Interest (RFI) for renewable energy off the coast of Delaware. Responses will determine whether there is competitive interest for the same area where NRG Bluewater has proposed its project. The RFI is the first of several expected to be issued for the federal waters off the East Coast.

Meanwhile, NRG Bluewater Wind and the state of Maryland are working toward a Power Purchase Agreement for up to 55 MW of wind energy as an extension to the proposed Delaware wind project. Economies of scale, of course, would make the Delaware project all the more financially viable.

The East Coast is not the only game in town, with offshore wind power initiatives progressing nicely in the Great Lakes area as well. In yet another offshore wind energy milestone, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) announced, late last year, the release of a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of offshore wind power projects in Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, or both bodies of water. The RFP calls for development of a project in the range of 120 to 500 MW. PPA negotiations are targeted to be completed by May 31, 2011.

Most recently, speaking in late May at AWEA's WIND-POWER 2010 Conference & Exhibition in Dallas, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland announced a partnership between GE and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. to develop an offshore wind farm in Lake Erie. GE has committed to providing offshore wind turbines and maintenance services for an initial 20-MW wind farm. Completion is targeted for 2012.

With that kind of activity, this year's AWEA North American Offshore Wind Conference & Exhibition (October 5-7; www.awea.org/events) will prove to be an opportune event to take stock of the accomplishments of the last several months.                      

Perhaps more importantly, it will also signal the start of the next stage in the industry's inevitable march toward multiple installations of wind turbines off U.S. shores.


Carl Levesque is Communications Editor of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

July/August 2010