I would not worry about a wind farm off of Block Island any time soon. The technology and cost of placing offshore wind turbines in deep (more than 75 feet) and unprotected (exposed to ocean swells) waters simply does not exist.
Real wind developers, like Cape Wind Associates, know this and have not responded to Gov. Donald Carcieri’s request for proposals. Cape Wind’s project on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound is, by contrast, in shallow waters (20-35 feet) and completely protected from ocean swells by Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Fifty-year storm ocean swell height in this area is about 15 feet. In contrast, 50-year ocean swell height in the lease areas off Block Island is 35 feet.
The wind farms in Europe are not in the North Sea, but in completely protected waters inside barrier islands or the straits of Denmark in shallow water with no exposure to the types of ocean storms we can expect here. No offshore wind turbines are planned for deeper, unprotected waters in Europe until after 2025.
The Long Island Power Authority proposed a wind farm off Jones Beach, Long Island, which has similar (deep, unprotected) conditions to those off Block Island. The project was abandoned after the cost, which was originally bid at about $450 million for a 140-megawatt facility, grew to over $800 million after they started to do the engineering of the offshore foundations.
This brought the cost of wind-generated electricity from this project from 9 cents/kWh to 29 cents, making it completely uncompetitive with other sources of energy.
What is driving this? Why would a state publish an RFP for a project that is not possible even with the state-of-the-art for this technology? Great question!
Wind energy is sexy … and seductive … and this clouds people’s minds and makes politicians offer it as solution that is not economically feasible and investors (who, if they did their homework, should know better) pour money into companies.
Bottom line: don’t worry about large wind turbines off of Block Island any time soon. The only danger is that too many people will waste time and money worrying about it.
By Henry duPont
Henry duPont is president of Lorax Energy Systems and lives on Beacon Hill.
9 June 2008