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July 8, 2014
By Tina Casey
The US has been lagging badly while other countries spring ahead with offshore wind farms, but it when it comes to the niche sector of floating wind turbines we’re right up there with the front-runners. That’s according to a recent article The Guardian, which mentioned a US floating wind turbine demonstration project at Coos Bay off the Oregon coast in the course of an article on Portugal’s cutting edge floating wind turbine experiments.
We touched on that Coos Bay project earlier this year, so now would be a good time to take a closer look.
Regarding that thing about the US lagging globally, the east coast of the US is actually starting to rev up its considerable shallow-water offshore wind power potential.
A multistate east coast offshore wind consortium to coordinate the effort got under way in 2010, and a jump-up-and-down milestone just occurred last week when the Energy Department gave its conditional blessing to a $150 million loan guarantee for the massive Cape Wind offshore wind farm in Massachusetts. A Rhode Island offshore wind farm is also set for completion in 2016.
The west coast of the US is a different story. The Continental Shelf drops off steeply, leaving little room for shallow-water offshore turbines anchored on conventional platforms in the ocean floor.
The solution is to float platforms for wind turbines in deep water and tether them in place. While that sounds simple enough, when you consider the massive scale of wind turbines and the rough-and-tumble of deepwater conditions, engineering a durable, cost-effective platform is a huge challenge.
However, there is a juicy payoff in the form of more powerful, steady winds.
The Guardian’s floating wind turbine article also credits a knowledge base of engineering for deep water drilling operations, which has helped to accelerate the development of floating wind turbines.
The Coos Bay wind power project, called WindFloat Pacific, will be the west coast’s first ever offshore wind farm. It is being developed by the aptly named company Deepwater Wind(not to be confused with DeepWind), using the WindFloat floating wind turbine technology provided by Principle Power, the same company behind one of the Portuguese projects.
Many other stakeholders, including Energy Department labs, are also involved in the project.
Principle is focusing first on the US and Europe wind markets, where previously untapped sites have the potential for more than two terawatts of wind power (btw if Deepwater rings a bell, that’s the same company behind the fixed-platform Block Island wind farm, which will most likely be the first offshore wind farm to operate on the East Coast).
We first took note of Principle’s distinctive three-cornered floating platform back in 2009, when it received a $750,000 Energy Department grant to incorporate wave energy into the structure.
The relatively simple part of the WindFloat equation is the mooring system that connects the platform to anchors on the ocean floor, which is composed of chain and polyester lines typically used in mooring operations of that type.
According to Principle, the system is operational at depths of greater than 60 meters.
A lot of attention also went into designing the WindFloat platform so that it could be full assembled onshore and then towed to its final destination, in order to reduce construction costs as well as risk exposure.
That meant designing a platform with a very shallow draft (draft refers to the part of a watercraft that remains under water), enabling it to be shipped from shallow waters to the deep.
Two key aspects of the WindFloat consist of a special “closed loop” hull trim design and proprietary plates at the base of each of the three columns. Called water entrapment plates or heave plates, they are designed to stabilize the platform against wave action, while the hull trim works against changes in wind velocity.
The improved stability enables the turbines to operate more efficiently. It also enables the WindFloat to employ standard onshore wind turbines, which are being provided by Siemens.
The next time we checked on Principle Power was just this past spring, when WindFloat and the Coos Bay project made the cut for one of three competitive Energy Department grants for advanced offshore wind power technology.
The other two projects are for New Jersey and Virginia, so now would be a good time to travel back to the east coast and see how offshore wind power has managed to crank up there, despite the usual Koch-related shenanigans.
In New Jersey, we’re just guessing that Governor Chris Christie’s friendly relations with the Koch brothers played a role in his decision to have his state effectively sit out the aforementioned east coast offshore wind consortium.
However, offshore wind is coming to New Jersey whether the Governor likes it or not, in the form of an Energy Department-funded five-megawatt demonstration wind farm, to be built by Fisherman’s Energy off the coast of Atlantic City.
Massachusetts also had a Koch monkey wrench thrown into its offshore wind sector, spearheaded by William Koch (the “other” brother). Koch was the main funder behind a years-long legal battle to stop the Cape Wind project, but earlier this year the final decision went in favor of wind.
With the legal stamp of approval in hand, just last week, the Energy Department gave its conditional approval to the $150 million loan guarantee to get Cape Wind off the ground and into the water.
Another east coast state that has apparently come under the Koch influence is Maine, through the conservative lobbying organization ALEC. The Guardian article referenced how Governor Paul LePage torpedoed and already-signed deal to bring global offshore wind power leader Statoil onto a $200 million wind development project, in favor of a more modest effort spearheaded by the University of Maine.
As of this count, Maine and New Jersey are still a wash but between the Oregon offshore floating wind turbines and the east coast activity, it looks like the sleeping US offshore wind power giant is finally waking up.