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From Stantec ERA: Offshore wind energy is the green future of electricity generation

May 28, 2019

By Ken Fitzgerald

Massachusetts is leading in the US by tapping into the ocean winds for energy

In December of 2018, the US government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held an auction to lease 390,000 acres of waters off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. The areas were earmarked for offshore wind farms as part of the most ambitious renewable energy project the American Northeast has ever seen.

After two days of bidding, a trio of winners emerged. Combined, these companies smashed records with $405 million (US) in bids. The previous highest-grossing lease sale, for an area off the coast of New York, was just $42.5 million.

“I'm just going to say at this point, wow,” said Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the BOEM, about the auction. “We are truly blown away by this result.”

Last August, the State of Massachusetts passed legislation setting a target of 3.2 gigawatts of offshore wind power generation by 2035, enough to power 1.6 million homes.

Wind is a financial win

The growing momentum of offshore wind power is, in large part, due to compelling economics. Developers, legislators, utilities, and communities are taking note of the plummeting cost of offshore wind projects around the world, including the UK and Nordic countries, where it has thrived as a source of renewable energy. According to analysts, costs of US offshore wind projects have fallen 75% since 2014.

It’s expected that hundreds of billions of dollars will be invested in offshore wind farms in the Northeast over the next decade because of federal and state incentives. Most states in the region are far along with regulations to support development and to guarantee a market once projects are built. Federal permits are in place around the US, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes, but demand is greatest in the Northeast because of the large coastal population and relatively shallow waters (which make construction easier). In the Northeast, platforms can be mounted on the sea floor, while on the West Coast—where the ocean is much deeper—floating platforms are needed. Because ocean winds are a lot steadier than those inland, the electricity supply from offshore turbines is more consistent.

Massachusetts is a mighty player in the offshore wind market. Last August, the state passed legislation setting a target of 3.2 gigawatts of offshore wind power generation by 2035, enough to power 1.6 million homes—a doubling of an already ambitious 1.6 gigawatt goal set in 2016. The offshore wind plan is a part of larger goal Massachusetts has set for itself to reduce their dependence on fossil-based energy sources and lower carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

One of the wining bids of the historic lease was Vineyard Wind LLC, a joint venture of two European entities, Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. This new bid is in addition to Vineyard Wind’s current $2-billion project, creating an 800-megawatt, 84-turbine offshore wind farm to be located 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Island. It is due to come online in two phases, in 2021 and 2022, and is expected to generate 10 gigawatts of electrical power, enough to serve 5 million people. When finished, it will be the country’s largest offshore wind installation.

Read and download Stantec era: The Energy Remix

Offshore wind’s growing popularity

The project not only demonstrates the potential of offshore wind power but how far its acceptance has come. Last November, the International Energy Agency published its annual World Energy Outlook, a 661-page report that projected massive changes in global energy markets. Among them is the rise of wind and solar energy for electricity, even in jurisdictions that have traditionally resisted clean energy.

On the other hand, the project has bipartisan support from lawmakers, communities, and environmentalists, and is being hailed for bringing thousands of jobs to the area and projections that it will save Massachusetts residents approximately $1.4 billion in energy costs over 20 years. On the federal level, the current administration has made offshore wind a key component of its balanced energy strategy, opening hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the East Coast and California for lease auction and offshore wind development. This federal, state, and local partnership ensures public understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of the value of offshore wind projects of this scale. All told, the Massachusetts project will require consultation and approval from more than 30 federal, state, and local agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, and conservation commissions, and depends on further consultation with the area’s Native American tribal authorities.

Getting the Vineyard Wind project off the ground—and into the water—also involves collaboration across highly specialized disciplines, including platform and turbine construction, civil engineering, geotechnical consulting, directional drilling, and environmental consulting. (Stantec is involved in several of these roles.) Cables will carry electricity from the offshore wind farm to Cape Cod. The cables will be routed through an undersea conduit about 300 metres offshore and then land at an exit point in a beachfront parking lot in the community of Barnstable, Massachusetts. From there, electricity will travel through a new, 5.5-mile underground duct bank routed through the community until it reaches a new substation where it interfaces with the local utility system.

The Vineyard Wind project and the ambitious goals of Massachusetts are merely the tip of the iceberg. Development is currently in the Northeastern US, but it is working its way down the Eastern Seaboard and will soon be found in the Western Seaboard, including California. As it expands, it is important for communities to have all the stakeholders at the table from the beginning. From your environmental scientists, to community development, to civil and electrical engineers, all must work together to deliver an effective and efficient project. Our green energy future is dependent on all players working together to deliver these important projects.

  • Ken Fitzgerald

    Ken has over 30 years of experience in the power industry. He has executed and managed multiple projects as owner’s engineer, as well as many projects as an EPC contractor.

    Contact Ken
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