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New Wind Turbines Coming with No Apparent Home

The U.S. does not yet have any installed offshore wind turbines, like this one off the southeast coast of England. Credit: phault/flickr. 

The components of giant offshore wind turbines will soon be visible in Virginia — though for at least a few years they are more likely to be seen coming out of a production plant than cutting through the wind a few hundred yards offshore.

Last week, Gamesa Technology Corp., a global giant in the design and manufacture of wind turbines, opened a new factory in Norfolk, the first of its kind in the U.S. to produce offshore wind turbines. According to a company press release, the facility will manufacture, in partnership American shipbuilder Northrop Grumman Corp., the first prototype of a new Gamesa offshore turbine model, the 5.0 MW G11X. Offshore wind turbines vary in the structure of their bases, depending on the depth of water in which they are going to be installed. 


Though Gamesa’s press office says it hopes to install turbines off the coast of Virginia and elsewhere in U.S. waters, it’s still unclear where the first products from the facility will be headed. According to a SolveClimate story on the new Gamesa facility, the company won't comment on who their first customers are.

Studies have shown that the Virginia coastline would make an ideal home for offshore wind farms, with an estimated 94 gigawatts of capacity, but there aren’t any set plans for development there (though the right to lease land for offshore wind development may be granted there by the end of this year).

In fact, no offshore wind farms have been built in the U.S. yet. Several projects have been in various stages of development for years, but compared to many countries in Europe and China, the U.S. is a latecomer in seriously pursuing its offshore wind potential.

Recently, the Department of Energy announced a $50 million plan to boost the development of the nation’s offshore wind portfolio as part of a larger government initiative to generate 80 percent of the country’s electricity through renewable sources. Increasing the installation of offshore turbines is also one of the proposed ways in which the U.S. could meet 20 percent of its electricity demand specifically with wind by 2030.

The most well-known offshore wind project, Cape Wind — which will likely be America’s first offshore wind farm — received its final government permit early this year. This seemingly decisive approval came ten long years after the project began, having gone through lengthy environmental reviews and public debate. Earlier this week, however, some Cape Wind opponents filed an appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the project. The farm will be set about five miles off the coast of Cape Cod, south of Hyannis, with construction scheduled to begin later this year, expected to last for two to three years.

Other offshore wind projects, including farms off the coasts of Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, and North Carolina are also moving forward, albeit slowly. All are still in various stages of approval, but none are expected to be fully functional until at least 2015.

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