United States

United States

New proposals join slow push offshore -- Under the surface

Three new bids for construction of offshore wind power plant in US waters came in last month in response to a New Jersey state government request for proposals (RFP). Each is for 350 MW, but there the similarity ends. The proposals submitted to the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy have come from three notably different entities.

The first of the trio is the New Jersey utility Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG). It has teamed up with Winergy Power Holdings and proposes to build its project about 16 miles off the shore of South Jersey. PSEG operates over 3000 MW of generation, including a nuclear plant. Its partner, Winergy, announced ambitious plans five years ago for over a dozen wind farms up and down the Eastern seaboard. The projects were not developed beyond an initial idea.

Fishermen

The other two proposals are from Fishermen's Energy of New Jersey, LLC (FERN), and Bluewater Wind. FERN is a consortium of commercial fishing companies that describes itself as a community-based offshore wind developer designed to let the fishing industry take the lead in offshore wind development. "With fishermen as principal developers, a key opposition to offshore wind is removed," says FERN president Daniel Cohen.

Bluewater Wind is a more familiar name in the wind power business. Aside from responding to the New Jersey RFP it also has plans for offshore wind plant off the states of New York, Rhode Island and to the far south off the Delaware coast. The Delaware project has been mired in an acrimonious power contract dispute with the local utility (Windpower Monthly, December 2007).

Of the three proposals, it is the one from PSEG that has raised most interest. "It was notable to see an entity like PSEG entering into the market," says Laurie Jodziewicz of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Faux oil sheiks

Meantime, the long drawn out struggle further north to gain permitting for the Cape Wind offshore project between the Massachusetts mainland and the island of Nantucket entered a new phase last month. The lead regulatory and permitting agency for offshore wind power in US waters, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), conducted three well attended public meetings into the project and recently extended its public comment period. Cape Wind is notoriously opposed by a group of well-heeled and politically well-connected residents in the area, several of whom own homes with views of Nantucket Sound. Even the press in the region has taken sides.

"It is a sign that the discussion has gone on too long when a half-dozen faux oil sheiks stalk into a gymnasium and hardly anyone raises an eyebrow," commented the major local newspaper, the Boston Globe, last month, referring to the increasingly theatrical protests for and against the project.

For all offshore projects, the central and continuing barrier remains a lack of rules and regulations for projects in federal waters. In 2005, the US Congress put MMS in charge of shaping a regulatory framework, giving it a deadline May of 2006 in which to get the work done. This was probably too ambitious, says Jodziewicz. "We've expressed our concern on the delay, but there haven't been indications they are dragging their feet. They have tried to move this along and they have made some progress."

The main step so far has been publication of the agency's "programmatic environmental impact statement," which rules that offshore wind in general poses no significant risks to the environment. The agency may now proceed to establish rules and regulations -- including a payment structure for leasing sections of the ocean floor.

MMS has also opened the door for submissions from interested parties for the deployment of meteorological test towers in federal waters. This is not the final package of guidelines the industry needs to move ahead on offshore projects, but it does allow companies to begin to assess the potential. This is important, says Jodziewicz, who says at least 43 submissions were received by the end of February -- a clear reflection of wind industry interest off American shores.

A quiet contender

Although a lot of attention has been focused on Cape Wind off Massachusetts -- and Bluewater Wind's Delaware project and now the New Jersey RFP have also attracted headline attention -- the first offshore wind project in the US may end up being not from a large commercial outfit but from the small seaside town of Hull, Massachusetts. It is proposing to put four wind turbines offshore.

In what backers of the project consider a big victory, last month the plan received a thumbs' up from Ian Bowles, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the state. The town's wind power experience so far has been with two municipally owned land-based turbines which have more than lived up to expectations, providing good returns on investment.

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