Friday, January 7, 2011

Offshore wind energy: The promise and the reality

"European countries have put in place more than 1,000 offshore wind turbines since the early 1990s. China set up its first offshore wind farm last year, and it’s supplying power to 200,000 Shanghai households. A second plant, also in the East China Sea, will be built next year."

That's what Governing Magazine has to say about wind energy development abroad. 

And at home?

"The U.S. has yet to build a single wind turbine in state or federal waters."

Discouraging?  You bet.  But change may be on the horizon.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, planning for wind development is well under way, with the largest concentration of sites proposed for mid-Atlantic states. Half a dozen offshore turbine projects capable of generating 3 gigawatts are currently undergoing federal review, with about a dozen more moving through the state permitting process.

Governing identifies New Jersey as leading the pack of wind-energy hopefuls, noting that the state recently  approved "one of the most aggressive pieces of offshore legislation in the country: a $100 million tax credit for offshore wind developers and supply chain manufacturers."

Michele Siekerka, assistant commissioner for economic growth and green energy at New Jersey's  Department of Environmental Protection, told the publication:

“We are sending a strong market sign that we are interested.  Our goal is to build an industry around these projects.” 

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that offshore wind capacity within 50 nautical miles of the U.S. coastline is about 4,000 gigawatts -- or about four times the amount of energy flowing through the current electrical grid.

So what, one wonders, is the holdup?  This isn't exploration into the dark recesses of space.  Europe and China have shown the way.  Why are we still lagging behind?

“We need a national renewable energy policy -- a policy that doesn’t change every two years,” says Bob West, managing director of the Ocean Energy Institute, adding that several factors are creating uncertainty in the offshore wind power market: cumbersome permitting processes, low natural gas prices and federal wind subsidies that are set to expire in 2012. “Without that certainty,” he says, “it’s going to be difficult to get these projects off the ground.”

Wonderful.  Two years into a Democratic administration that promised a dramatic change in energy policy, the wind-energy industry and investors are still waiting for clear direction. And the two-and-a-half parties in Congress have demonstrated even less interest in moving the nation beyond its fossil-fuel dependence. They're two busy bashing each other in the daily sound-bite war.

You know just how bad things are when a near bankrupt state like New Jersey has to take the lead by promising enormous tax breaks to get the turbines spinning.

Check out the entire story at: The Struggle to Implement Offshore Wind Farms

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