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Jersey Shore Eyed for Offshore Wind Farms

In the first step toward building large wind farms off the coast of New Jersey, the U.S. Department of Interior has announced that it will auction 344,000 acres of open ocean off the coast of Atlantic City next month for future offshore wind development.

The auction is taking place as part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. It plays into the federal government’s goal to see 20,000 megawatts of new renewable power development on federally-controlled lands and waters by 2020 as a way to help wean the country away from coal, a major driver of climate change.

The Sheringham Shoal Offshore Wind Farm in the United Kingdom. There are no operating offshore wind farms in the U.S. today.
Credit: Statkraft/flickr

To meet that goal, the Interior Department has been orchestrating a frenzy of offshore wind leasing off the coasts of several states, including Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts and Virginia. So far, that leasing has yielded one project, the Block Island Wind Farm, which began construction — “steel in the water” in industry parlance — this summer off the coast of Rhode Island. It is slated to become the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. when it is completed.

Offshore wind farms are commonplace in Europe, where more than 2,300 wind turbines twirl off the coasts of 11 countries, with many more on the way. The New Jersey auction is the United States’ next step in emulating Europe’s success — an attempt to harness some of the 4,000 gigawatts of wind power generation potential that exists in the U.S. within 50 miles of the shorelines on both coasts.

If wind farms off the Jersey Shore are fully developed, they could produce 3,400 megawatts of power — enough to light up 1.2 million homes, according to the Interior Department. The wind development area being leased is in shallow water beginning about seven miles off the shoreline.

So far, 13 wind power companies are vying for the leases, set to be auctioned off Nov. 9.

Philadelphia-based Sea Breeze Energy is one of those companies, and it sees more promise for future wind development off the coast of New Jersey than other places.

“It’s got very good physical characteristics in terms of wind speed, water depth, distance to shore,” Sea Breeze Energy President Dan Renshaw said. “It’s much easier to develop an offshore wind farm off the coast of New Jersey than other sites.”

This Bureau of Ocean Energy Management map shows the offshore wind areas being leased on November 9 off the coast of New Jersey.
Credit: BOEM

It’s also easier for a wind farm to connect to the state’s power grid than in other places, he said.

“We’d definitely be interested in a large-scale project, but you’re forced to deal with the issue that there aren’t any (offshore) wind farms in the U.S. yet,” Renshaw said. “Financing would be relatively difficult.”

Even with financing, it could be a long time before the companies that successfully bid on those leases actually start construction on new wind turbines.

Tracey Moriarty, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is the Interior Department agency in charge of offshore wind leasing, said the development process works like this: A company has a year to submit a plan showing how it will gauge how much wind power can be generated at the sites where it plans to build turbines. Once that plan is approved, the company has four and a half years to create a construction plan for the wind farm and then another 25 to build and operate it.

“We are probably years away from seeing steel in the water offshore New Jersey,” she said.

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