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Offshore wind: America's next superproject?

Posted by Lexie Briggs on Mar 3, 2013

Offshore wind was in the news this week, as Massachusetts’ flagship project, Cape Wind, welcomed a Japanese bank as its lead lender. Also, development has begun on Cape Wind’s port facilities. Three bidders met the February 15thproposal deadline for the terminal, which will eventually be a 28-acre facility able to support both merchant shipping and offshore wind construction. The facility is being built larger than current needs dictate to prepare for future innovations in wind technology.

Since the completion of the Big Dig in 2007, America has been without a megaproject. These grand projects of infrastructure and scale were major drivers of the American economy in the 20th Century. And while advancing America’s energy infrastructure might just be our next infrastructure project on a grand scale, Tom Zeller’s recent article on the challenges the Cape Wind project has faced through its 12-year history—from regulatory challenges to thousands of pages of environmental impact studies to opposition ranging from late Senator Ted Kennedy to oil billionaire William Koch—might count as a megaproject in and of itself.

The project has been at the vanguard of the offshore wind movement in the U.S., meaning that it has paved the way for offshore wind projects to come, but only by jumping through an excessive number of hoops. Jim Gordon, the natural gas developer who proposed Cape Wind more than a decade ago, had no idea what he was getting into. “If I knew from the very beginning that it would take 12 years and cost as much as it did, I would have had to think very long and hard about accepting that challenge,” Gordon said. 

But accept it he did it – and that is paving the way for additional offshore wind projects, perhaps with less uproar. This week, the Washington Post reported that Maryland’s offshore wind effort enjoys a broad base of support in the state, with 58% of residents in favor of developing wind off the coast of Maryland. The bill pushed by Gov. O’Malley to make it possible keeps moving through the Maryland legislature, emerging from a key Senate committee.

At this week’s Offshore Wind Power Conference in Boston, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the federal government is prepared to auction wind-energy development areas off the coasts of Massachusetts and Virginia this summer. “We have already identified where the sweet spots are for wind energy projects in the Atlantic,” Salazar said. “That means that as developers move forward in their significant interest along the Atlantic Coast to propose projects, they’ll know where those projects should go.”

In terrestrial advanced energy news, SunRun is facing a class action lawsuit charging misleading marketing and Abound Solar, which filed for bankruptcy last year, has been ordered to clean up waste at several sites in Colorado. Meanwhile, Time Magazine asks the not-so-eternal question: are EV enthusiasts too enthusiastic about EVs? That’s somehow a bad thing?