Despite a political firestorm resulting in a dark cloud being cast over the federal government's backing of renewable energy projects in the aftermath of the fall of now bankrupt Solyndra, Inc. and Beacon Power, once high-flying cleantech companies that received federal loan guarantees, Washington is still moving ahead with plans to develop renewables—particularly, offshore wind power.
Currently, the U.S. produces one-fifth of the world's onshore wind power but has yet to generate a spark of electricity offshore, though last year, the U.S. Department of Interior approved its first related project, Cape Wind, a long-reviewed and still-contested 130-turbine project off the coast of Massachusetts in Nantucket Sound, near Cape Cod.
Now, it's gearing up to pump life into America's nascent ocean wind industry to help the government reach its goals of stabilizing energy costs, enhancing energy security, and improving the state of the environment.
The department has promised to expedite the process of identifying suitable coastal sites and granting permits for offshore farms in the Atlantic. Promising areas are being explored in the breezy federal waters off Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland.
Offshore wind projects are considerably more expensive to build than their onshore counterparts. Running the American regulatory gauntlet is another serious challenge. Even so, some companies have already presented unsolicited bids to develop projects, including Virginia-based Apex Wind Energy, Inc.. Meanwhile Deepwater Wind, a developer in Rhode Island, recently agreed to buy Siemens' latest offshore wind turbines for deployment at Block Island Wind Farm, which it says is "on track to be the nation’s first offshore wind farm."
According to international nonprofit conservation group Oceana, the Eastern Seaboard has the potential to deliver more energy from wind than it does from oil and gas. Some estimates place the entire probable generation at 1,000 gigawatts of power annually, or a quarter of U.S. demand.
A $5 billion, 350-mile underwater transmission backbone for future offshore wind is being planned with financing from, among others, cash-rich Internet search giant Google.
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