Unlike Europe, there are no operational offshore wind farms in the United States. But, there are signs that the days without turbines dotting the watery horizon are numbered. Here are some of the recent developments in the ongoing saga of domestic offshore wind.
New Jersey has had its shares of ups and downs in the journey toward installing its first offshore turbines. Fishermen's Energy, a group dedicated to making offshore wind power a reality for New Jersey, suffered a setback in March when the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities rejected its application for a 25 MW demonstration project which was to be located in waters about three miles off Atlantic City; however, weeks later, in May, the organization received a vote of confidence from the federal level. The Energy Department selected Fishermen's Energy as one of three projects to receive up to $46.7 million in funding over the next four years "to accelerate the commercialization of innovative offshore wind technologies in the United States." Recently, the federal level gave another nod toward developing offshore wind.
The Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, illustrated its interest in developing offshore wind resources last week by identifying an area of about 344,000 acres, located off of the New Jersey shore, to be the subject of an upcoming offshore wind lease sale.
The site, if fully developed, could generate up to 3.4 GW of commercial wind generation -- enough to power about 1.2 million homes -- according to the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Addressing the BOEM's announcement, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said, "New Jersey has the offshore wind resources to be a national leader in clean energy generation and this announcement is an important step in that direction."
Previously, the BOEM has awarded five other commercial wind energy leases for sites off the East Coast: two non-competitive leases and three competitive leases. According to the BOEM, the three competitive lease sales -- two offshore Massachusetts-Rhode Island and one offshore Virginia -- have generated about $5.4 million in high bids.
Keeping an eye on AC
Although the development of Atlantic City's offshore wind projects is in the earliest stages, Exelon will likely be keeping an eye on how things progress. The utility intends to merge with Atlantic City Electric, a subsidiary of Pepco Holdings, which serves about 545,000 customers, in a deal which is expected to be approved by mid-2015. Exelon has previously shown a mixed interest in developing offshore wind. In 2011, after merging with Constellation Energy, Exelon pledged $30 million in offshore wind development off the Maryland coast; however, the Chicago-based utility was not one of the BOEM's approved bidders in the August 19 auction for a site of about 80,000 acres off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. In terms of onshore wind, Exelon has 44 projects spanning 10 states in its portfolio of approximately 1,300 MW of capacity.
The Foolish takeaway
The Energy Department estimates that the United States has nearly 4,000 GW of offshore wind potential -- four times the nation's current total generation capacity. Nonetheless, the number of commercial projects in operation stands at zero. But, will it stay at zero? Naysayers are quick to dismiss domestic offshore wind projects, claiming that it is less economically advantageous than other energy endeavors, among a variety of other reasons. On the other hand, the Interior Department and Energy Department have demonstrated repeated interest in developing offshore wind projects by holding auctions for various sites, and interest is being shown at the state level by a number of East Coast states.
In this Fool's view, offshore wind in the United States is inevitable, and fellow Fools who keep the long view and follow the developments, may count themselves among the many winners that will surely emerge when the first offshore turbines are turned on.