Posted on: March 6th, 2012 by Stas


By Stas Margaronis, Rebuild the United States

Offshore wind power has the capacity to replace fossil fuel power with renewable energy that can economically transform the United States. The problem is that  its deployment is delayed by political resistance, regulatory delays and lack of financing. Offshore wind is a jobs and economic game changer for Atlantic, Gulf, Great Lakes and  Pacific coast population centers, but it  needs political support from Congress and the President. This support  includes renewing the existing tax credit, continuing to streamline federal approvals,  renewable energy mandates for utilities and federal loan guarantees to finance construction.


The United States lags far behind Europe and Asia in offshore wind development: U.S. developers are struggling to get started with projects off   Atlantic coast states including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York.

Building wind farms off the U.S. coast  places renewable power close to population centers on the Atlantic, Gulf and Great Lakes and the Pacific populations centers creating new construction, maintenance and port development jobs.

Wind:Research  a German Consulting firm  says   the German government’s efforts to finance and support wind farm development should result in  8,000 mw of offshore power by 2020.

Wind:Research  says Germany currently lags behind the UK and Denmarkin offshore wind power installations: “Germany currently has 400 mw of installed off-shore wind capacity. In contrast, the installed capacity in the UK is 2,175 mw and the installed capacity in Denmark is 872 mw.”

Currently, the U.S. has yet to build a single offshore wind farm.

Offshore wind is currently more expensive than fossil fuel generated power such as oil, gas and coal, but wind is renewable, does not need to be stored or transported and does not create respirator problems or carbon emissions  and is not subject to supply fluctuations.


In New Jersey, Governor Christie a conservative Republican, is backing the development of offshore wind farms but wants projects to show that they generate jobs in New Jersey. U.S. wind developers need to heed Christie’s call for a jobs strategy developed in partnerships with shipbuilders, steel manufacturers, cable makers, logistics providers and transmission generators.

Michele Siekerka, an assistant commissioner with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, told participants at the Green Power Offshore Wind conference in Boston that New Jersey is working proactively to establish the infrastructure for offshore wind development and jobs. The state is working with manufacturers and unions to create a supply chain interchange for wind farm developers including a new wind farm port.

As offshore power cable is in short supply, new cable manufacturing in the United States will be necessary and next generation superconducting cable could be a possibility for use as transmission cable.  Several new types of ships will need to be built, including installation vessels that each cost $200 million. Ports will need to be modernized and reconfigured to assemble and transport turbines and foundations. New tripod foundations weigh 1,100 tons, the size of a small ship – and hundreds of tripods will be necessary.

Carl Wegner, vice president for strategic planning for Signal International, a Mobile, Alabama-based shipbuilder believes the wind industry needs to do more to attract shipbuilders and suppliers, so as  to broaden the supply chain base that would build offshore wind farms and lobby for support.

These vessels and support structures will fall under U.S. law requiring construction in the United States by American workers (the Jones Act).  Support for the Jones Act from offshore wind companies will broaden their support base and  fend off attacks  in Congress by special interest who want to outsource U.S. shipbuilding jobs.


A new strategy to fast-track the permitting and construction of wind farms is being developed by the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), partly financed by Google. AWC   proposes to build an offshore transmission line between New Jersey and Virginia that will connect  seven wind farms, each capable of generating  1,000 mw  of power to land-based consumers. The AWC project is built primarily in federal waters so that permitting is faster and once the cable is installed, wind farm developers can connect their wind farms to AWC’s transmission network and begin selling wind power to customers.

Pierre Bernard, head of business development for Elia, a Belgium-based transmission operator, which owns grid operations inGermany, recently bought a 10 per cent stake in the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC). He is positive about the U.S.industry’s future. He believes that, aside from connecting offshore wind power, the AWC project could also foster security of supply and reduce the risk of brown-outs by reducing congestion on over-taxedU.S.power lines that will help reduce costs and increase reliability, justifying the moderate increase in utility rates.

Bernard says that the lack of modernization in transmission lines in the United States  and the difficulty in obtaining appropriate permits are  increasing the incidence of brown-outs and black-outs and for this reason alone, new offshore transmission lines are needed near population center such as along the U.S. Atlantic coast:

“Europe initially has faced the same set of delays faced by U.S.developers but benefited from a European Commission mandate that utilities needed to source 20 per cent of their power from renewable resources by 2020.”


Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, says political resistance from fossil fuel interests continues to plague wind farm development.  He  said, “Every year’s delay in stopping the development of clean renewable offshore wind power delays the reduction of carbon emissions and is another year won for extending our dependence on carbon producing energy generation sources.”

Lanard noted the Koch Brothers, who own oil and gas interests, are opposing the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts. He hopes the extension of a production tax credit will be passed no later than the lame duck session of Congress following the 2012 presidential election. He also notes progress on the state level, such as that Cape Wind has won a power purchase agreement for over seventy-five percent (75%) of output so that it will soon begin building wind turbines.



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