July 29, 2009

Wind Farms Head Offshore

While investment and construction of new wind power farms has continued growing across the US mainland, some developers have set their sights offshore.

New offshore wind farms have been proposed off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware and New Jersey.

"They're building these wind farms in the Midwest fast, which is great. The problem is there's no people," Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri told Reuters. "Where is the energy needed? The energy is needed here on the East Coast."

In 2001, developers put together the Cape Wind project, which proposed construction of an offshore wind farm equipped with 130 towers over the Nantucket Sound.

The project was touted as a new source for 420 megawatts of power "“ enough to run about 336,000 US homes.

But the project is in limbo as it awaits approval by the US Interior Department. Once approval is received, the $1 billion construction project is expected to be completed in two years.

"There's no doubt that since last summer we have kind of fallen into a significant capital financing crunch," said Jim Gordon, chief executive of Cape Wind, referring to the impact of a sluggish economy on the project.

"I'm confident that the Cape Wind project is going to be financed."

Judging from the popularity being whipped up by wind power, Gordon could be right. Last year, more than $17 billion was invested in US wind farms, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

But developers are running into high costs of the ambitious new projects.

"Coastal real estate is expensive," Kevin Book, energy analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, told Reuters. "It's going to be very tough to get stakeholders on board when you're crossing coastal real estate with something unsightly."

In addition some local residents see the Cape Wind project as an unsightly project that could ruin its tourism prospects.

"Renewable energy is great, but because it is such a huge footprint, the site becomes critical and Nantucket Sound is absolutely the worst location," said Audra Parker, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

"I don't see how a wind farm is going to change the way we look at the Cape necessarily. I think it's better than looking at a power plant," says 22-year-old Peter Baldwin, of Hyannis.


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