Cape Wind can kickstart the US offshore industry

1 June 2010

At a time when offshore wind development in the USA seems to have slowed to a crawl, the industry has received a major boost with the granting by the Federal government of planning permission for the 420 MW Nantucket Sound wind farm.

Cape Wind, the developer of what will be the USA's first offshore wind farm, is aiming to start construction before the end of 2010. Cape Wind proposed construction of such a facility off the coast of Massachusetts in 2001 and has been battling through the permitting process ever since. After its nine year long battle it has naturally welcomed this decision by the US Department of the Interior. The company says that the approval of the project ‘has launched the American offshore wind industry’ and would allow the USA to ‘harness an abundant and inexhaustible clean energy source for greater energy independence, a healthier environment and green jobs’.

Approval of the project is likely to trigger the approval of at least six more projects along the east coast of the USA and in the Great Lakes region, according to the European Wind Energy Association. The decision ‘marks the birth of a new phase in offshore wind power’ said Christian Kjaer, EWEA chief executive.

The prospect of such a large array has met with strong opposition from environmentalists and local residents who are concerned about the environmental and visual impact of the project. Groups such as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound have promised to take further legal action to stop the project. But initially at least they have suffered a reverse – on the same day that Cape Wind received its final approval, a judge in Hyannis decided against an opponents’ lawsuit, saying it had no merit.

‘With opponents now saying they will be filing lawsuits to deprive the region safe, secure and clean energy and jobs Cape Wind will bring, it is important to note this judge’s decision yesterday in deciding against the opponents,’ said Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers.

The suit filed by project opponents alleged that Cape Wind’s Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) filed with the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs did not comply with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The opponents’ primary contention was that the Secretary’s review should have included the components of the project that are located in federal waters even though the Secretary’s authority is limited to projects that will be located on state land and water.

Supply contract

Siemens has won the contract to supply 130 of its 3.6 MW SWT-3.6-120 turbines for the wind farm and plans to open a new offshore-specialist office in Boston. It has already announced plans for a new nacelle assembly facility in Hutchinson, Kansas, which is scheduled to become operational in December 2010, and recently expanded its blade manufacturing facilities in Fort Madison, Iowa, at a plant that employs 600 people. The first two prototypes of the SWT 3.6-120 were installed by Dong at Avedøre in Copenhagen, and installed in time for the UN’a World Climate summit.

Siemens released its 3.6 MW SWT-3.6-120 wind turbine for sale in September last year. It features a 120 m rotor and is based on the technology of the SWT-3.6-107, itself one of the most specified offshore wind turbines. The new machine is equipped with 58.5 m blades and has a swept area of 11 300 m2. It is claimed to improve by 10% the total of generated electricity compared to its predecessor.

The Cape deal will be a disappointment to the two largest turbine makers in the world, Vestas and GE, which have both made a substantial effort to pick up the contract. Indeed GE had already been selected, way back in 2003, but lost the contract when it left the offshore busness. In the event Cape Wind said the decision was between Siemens and Vestas, and seems to have gone for Siemens as the ‘safe option' because it offers a well tried workhorse. The GE and Vestas products are both relatively untried, GE with its purchase of ScanWind having entered the business only recently after its long absence, and Vestas having relaunched a new and improved version of its 3 MW unit in the autumn.

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