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Brandi Colander’s Blog

Deepwater Wind Submits Plans to DOI for America's Largest Offshore Wind Farm

Brandi Colander

Posted December 8, 2010 in Green Enterprise, Moving Beyond Oil, Nuclear Weapons, Waste and Energy, U.S. Law and Policy

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Today, Deepwater Wind announced plans to build two offshore wind projects in the US. The first plan proposed is a 5-8 turbine demonstration offshore wind project close to Block Island, as a replacement to a previously announced 100 turbine, 350 MW project. The second, named the Deepwater Wind Energy Center (DWEC) would constitute a 200 turbine, 1000 MW project in Rhode Island; estimated to begin construction in 2014.  This effort is going to take place in four phases and cost between $4-5 billion. The first phase is slated to begin operation in 2015. In addition, the DWEC proposal includes an undersea transmission network that could serve Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut; costing an additional $500 million to $1 billion. The DWEC is expected to produce electricity to serve roughly 350,000 homes and displace 1.7 million of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

According to Deepwater Wind, this project is “the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road or 40 million barrels of foreign oil imports”. A 200 turbine offshore wind farm would indeed constitute the largest offshore wind farm proposed in the country. The proposed location is currently in federal waters and considered an “area of mutual interest” for Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Neptune Wind, a Massachusetts company, has also submitted a proposal to DOI to build a 120 turbine offshore wind farm with 360 MW of capacity in this same area of mutual interest. Recently announced DOI permitting challenges provide an opportunity for the Administration to clarify this process as developers seek to identify viable areas for siting offshore wind farms.  DOI's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is currently proposing a revision to current regulations in situations where there is only one qualified interested developer and the process for issuing noncompetitive leases. BOEMRE is exploring ways to simplify the leasing process and improve the efficiacy of the current 7-9 year permitting process; an effort critical to the vitality of this nascent industry.

Rhode Island recently approved an extensive marine spatial planning effort, the Rhode Island Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), designed to serve as a federally recognized coastal management and regulatory tool.  The effort, led by the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), is one of the most extensive ocean management planning evaluations undertaken by any state in the US to date. According to Deepwater management, the DWEC is shaped irregularly in an effort to avoid fishing grounds, shipping lanes and glacial rock formations.  Deepwater believes that the site corresponds with the SAMP and development of this project would incorporate sustainable environmental practices in order to protect ocean-based resources.  

Deepwater attributes the “doubling” of this DWEC capacity, after ending plans to develop a previous 100 turbine project, to technological developments like next-generation turbines that can produce more power which are now being built in Europe resulting in improved economies of scale for developers. The company plans to capitalize on these advancements in technology by tripling DWEC’s capacity by doubling the number of turbines. DWEC is expected to generate up to 800 jobs, the same amount of jobs expected to come with a 100 turbine project however the construction cycle would last longer with this larger effort creating more opportunities for construction and assembly employment.

While it remains to be seen whether or not a larger project will translate into lower costs when spread among ratepayers, the filing of Deepwater’s applications to the Department of Interior for these projects offers another potential opportunity for renewable energy generation by offshore wind to take place here in America.  Continued coordination with industry, government and environmental stakeholders is critical to properly bringing these technologies to scale. Incorporating the SAMP and marine spatial planning as these projects are developed ensures sustainable renewable energy generation.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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