Europe has been using offshore wind energy for more than a decade and has deployed more than 7 gigawatts of electricity with these turbines. Their cost per kWh was high at first, but it has fallen 11 percent in four years. So why hasn't the United States jumped on the bandwagon of offshore wind energy? It's been said that the East Coast will eventually have to rely on offshore wind turbines if our country does, indeed, make the switch to renewables, but until now, it hasn't been done.
Currently under construction, Block Island, Rhode Island, is the first offshore wind farm in the United States. This 30-megawatt, five-turbine wind farm will supply power to most of the New England island town. It is small potatoes compared to Europe, but it serves a greater purpose in the eyes of developer, Deepwater Wind. Being the first offshore wind farm, Block Island could potentially change the way the United States views offshore wind energy. Deepwater Wind CEO Michael Alvarez has gone on record claiming the key to getting offshore wind power in the United States is to build good projects that demonstrate to utility companies, policymakers and regulators that offshore wind farms aren't just a theory – they are the real deal.
However, there are obstacles to overcome. First, the stigma that came from the crash of the Cape Wind project off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. If you aren't familiar, the Cape Wind project was a plan to construct a wind farm consisting of 130 turbines over 24 square miles of the Horseshoe Shoal. Unfortunately, a combination of politics and money led to abandoning the project, thus, giving offshore wind projects a bad name.
Secondly, offshore wind energy is expensive. The 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA) prices Block Island wind energy at 24.4 cents per kWh for National Grid, making it more than two times what utilities pay for conventionally sourced energy. This has caused utilities to hesitate and halt other projects, such as the New Jersey Fishermen's Energy project, which would have provided 25 megawatts of electricity to the Garden State. While we've seen a decrease in Europe's offshore wind energy prices, rates haven't gone down as quickly as policymakers would have liked, making them cautious to begin U.S. projects.
If offshore wind energy is part of the renewable energy solution, it will probably be at least a couple of decades before it becomes something on which the U.S. consistently relies. Regardless, it seems as though the consensus among those who support the transition to renewable energy sources is with the CEO of Deepwater Wind – if you build it, they will get the point.