Energy Wanted: Offshore Wind Farms Need Apply

In our country’s race to become more energy independent, offshore wind farms have taken a back seat to the offshore drilling debate that is currently heating up in our politics.  Realistically, we could be seeing these offshore wind farms begin to pop-up off the Atlantic coast sometime in the near future, way before any oil rigs.  CNN.com tells us:

Delaware hopes to be the first state to construct a wind farm off its coast. The project, scheduled to be completed in 2012, is one of several offshore wind proposals that have cleared significant hurdles in recent months.

Proponents say wind offers more long-term energy independence than offshore oil. Residents along the Eastern seaboard are embracing it as a stable-priced, environmentally friendly energy alternative.

“When people see the price of gas hit $4, they are very open to having discussions about alternatives,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a nonprofit group.

Wind energy today accounts for only 1 percent of the nation’s electricity. A May report from the Energy Department concluded wind energy could generate 20 percent by 2030, with offshore sources accounting for nearly 20 percent of that. Projects mostly would be located along the Atlantic coast because the seabed floor elsewhere drops off too quickly to anchor turbines.

Offshore wind farms present a promising source of unlimited energy.  According to an article written by TreeHugger.com, there is as much potential wind power off our coasts as the current capacity of all power plants in the U.S. combined.

Some benefits of offshore wind farms over land based ones include:

  • Less obtrusive.  Apparent size and noise can be mitigated by distance to land.
  • Higher average wind speed due to less surface roughness than land.
  • Average cost relative to the higher fixed cost of installation can be reduced by size of turbines.  Although harder and often more expensive to install and maintain (especially in deeper water), offshore wind turbines tend to be much larger than those on land and are capable of producing more energy.

Currently, there are many offshore wind farms in operation off the coast of European Nations including Denmark, The Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.

Why has the U.S. been slow to follow suit?

Well for one thing, these nations are simply to densely populated to make any sizable wind farms on land.  However, the U.S. does have plenty of open space for onshore farms, especially in the Great Plains.  Also onshore wind farms can provide economic growth to rural communities in the form of tax revenue and rent to land owners.

Notable Links:
CNN: Offshore Wind Farms May Line U.S. Coast
Forbes: State-by-state Summary of Offshore Wind Proposals
Wickipedia: List of offshore wind farms

American Wind Energy Association