Everybody has something to say about offshore wind development

The National Wildlife Federation has updated a 2010 assessment of offshore wind development along the East Coast in a report that calls for states bordering the Atlantic Ocean to set ambitious offshore wind power goals, invest in research and establish a competitive market for that power.

Before I run through all the details, let me try and tell this story in two images. Here’s the gist of the NWF report: National Wildlife Federation atlantic wind energy report As you can see, the circled area indicates the “East Coast energy gold mine” located close enough to one-third of the country’s population, just off the coast.

So far, the federal government has designated areas off the coast of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia as wind energy areas, which the report said could generate more than 16,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 5 million homes.

For the Maine-based take, the Natural Resources Council of Maine in its press release included statements from nine commentators — state politicians, senators, environmentalists, business people and people in the on- and off-shore wind industry.

To aid digestion, I’ve entered their collective comments (732 words) into a word cloud, which I think conveys the tenor of the discussion (click to zoom in and see delightful vertical collisions like ‘state champions local american fumble grave’): Offshore wind energy word map But on to the details:

The report identifies offshore wind as a potential salve to the region’s energy needs as coal-fired and nuclear power plants come offline and natural gas-fired power plants face capacity constraints, particularly in the winter when heating needs take priority and put pressure on the gas available to generate electricity (also the subject of a PUC case generating controversy).

Among the report’s key findings and arguments:

  • Putting 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind power onto the grid would reduce annual energy costs by $350 million (development costs aren’t included here).
  • Europe is a model for offshore wind, with 6,500 megawatts installed that support more than 58,000 jobs and $20 billion of investment lined up in the next 10 years.
  • Offshore wind turbines can be placed in locations that don’t harm wildlife. Again, Europe is an example.

As for the states making the most progress, the report groups Maine with the Carolinas and Georgia, which “have offshore wind research and preliminary planning activities underway.”

Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which have leases, permits and contracts in place for two projects to start construction in 2015, are identified as leading the way. (Besides any regional benefit to the grid, there’s an economic boon for Maine there in that Pittsfield-based Cianbro won a $100 million contract to build platforms for the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts. They’re also a partner on the UMaine-led Aqua Ventus project, which didn’t get all of the federal money it wanted, but a smaller $3 million allocation to continue studying its floating turbine concept.)

Maryland is identified as having “significant momentum” through state incentives to develop up to 200 megawatts of offshore wind power and Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Delaware have made progress toward proposing projects, designating federal Wind Energy Areas and completing necessary studies, the report said.

New Hampshire, Connecticut and Florida, it termed “states to watch,” nothing no activity in the offshore wind planning arena. Aside from meeting energy needs, the report suggests offshore wind as a way to meet the EPA’s new emission reduction targets for power plants (Maine would have to reduce emissions 13.5 percent under the rules) and would slow the pace of global warming.

An analysis by Reuters published Thursday found instances flooding along the Eastern Seaboard have become more frequent in recent years. Digging into the comments published Thursday, the sharpest barbs came from the Natural Resources Council’s Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees and Environment Maine’s Director Emily Figdor. Figdor criticized Gov. Paul LePage for “obstructing the development of wind power” and causing Norwegian company Statoil to scrap its Maine-based pilot project.

A post at the NRCM website Thursday emphasized the way the barb cuts:

The subtext of a Thursday morning press release from the Natural Resources Council of Maine is that the biggest roadblock to sustainable wind power is Gov. Paul LePage.

Rather than rehash all the details, I’ll just link to related reading on the political battle over Statoil, which announced last October that it had called off its proposal for the Gulf of Maine after LePage administration officials last May had email conversations about stopping that project, according to The Associated Press.

Jake Ward, UMaine’s VP for innovation and economic development, said in the release that the university remains optimistic about the potential for its project. “The extensive work that the UMaine lead team has completed to date, including the now-13 month successful deployment at Castine of the only floating offshore wind project in the Americas connected to the grid, is very important to meeting these goals,” Ward said.

The release also included statements in praise of the industry’s potential from Maine Rep. Barry Hobbins, Maine Sen. Roger Katz, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors and Maine Wind & Ocean Industry Initiative Coordinator Paul Williamson.

For those, I’ll refer you back to the word cloud.

Or, if you really want to, you can see for yourself.

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Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.