By Kellie Dietrich
This article was originally published in Issue 10, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (March 3, 2016). Click here to view the entire issue.
On Feb. 19, DeSales welcomed Jessica Stromberg from the Office of Renewable Energy Program Services Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Her talk in the auditorium of the Priscilla Payne Hurd Science Center overviewed the U.S. Offshore Energy Program and the potential for wind energy in the U.S.
Stromberg explained BOEM oversees offshore renewable energy development in the Outer Continental Shelf, 1.7 billion acres of federal submerged lands. She showed the U.S. Wind Resource Map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that made it clear how powerful the wind is on the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts compared to wind on land.
“Where the wind resources are doesn’t line up with where most people live,” said Stromberg. Offshore winds blow harder and more uniformly than those on land, giving offshore energy the potential to power major coastal urban centers including New York City and Boston. According to BOEM, 53 percent of the U.S. population lives in coastal areas, where demand and cost for energy is high and land-based renewable resources are limited.
“The energy on the coasts are four times the amount of installed electricity in the U.S.,” said Stromberg. Although there are currently no offshore wind farms, there will be one operating off the coast of Rhode Island toward the end of 2016.
Block Island, 13 miles from Rhode Island, will have the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. The island will now be mostly powered by wind, instead of diesel fuel, which releases harmful emissions into the air. Additionally, it is estimated the wind farm will reduce Block Island’s electric rates by 40 percent and it will help air pollution in New England as well.
The Block Island Wind Farm consists of 30 megawatts of power throughout the five turbines, powering up to around 10,500 homes. Each turbine is connected to an electric service platform (ESP) by a power cable. The cables are usually buried beneath the seabed to eliminate exposure to the marine environment. They transmit the power to an onshore substation, where the power is transferred into the grid.
There are also different ways that turbines are installed due to water depth. When the water is over 60 meters deep, oating turbines, anchored to the seabed, are used.
The billion-dollar Block Island project was originally estimated to take eight weeks; however, it took 18 weeks to install the five turbines due to wind and weather conditions, which Stromberg said is typical to expect.
According to BOEM, there are over 50 offshore wind farms operating in coastal waters in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Italy and many others. Europe is known to be more environmentally friendly than the U.S. and receives government subsidies for wind farms while the U.S. does not.
“There are many offshore wind farms in Europe,” said Stromberg. “They’re probably 20 years ahead of us.”
While Block Island is not in operation yet, there are many plans being proposed off the coasts of Maryland, Delaware and North Carolina with research being collected in South Carolina and Virginia and proposals in Oregon and Hawaii.
Stromberg explains it is a long process before plans are set in action. The main law to comply with is the National Environmental Policy Act.
“It requires federal agencies to assess environmental effects of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives prior to decision making,” said Stromberg.
Numerous time-consuming consultations take place to address conflicting interests with the development of offshore wind farms such as commercial fishing, viewshed (affecting views for tourism) and port access. She gets as much information about the land as possible from people who actually live in these locations and use the land.
Stromberg said public perception is one of the main challenges to offshore wind farms; however, she is hopeful it will become popular in the U.S. coasts. Block Island will be the best predictor if offshore wind farms take off in the U.S. or not.