Sunday, October 05, 2008

Offshore Wind Power Comes to New Jersey

New Jersey has approved its first offshore wind farm, following the lead of similar projects in Delaware and Rhode Island.

The proposal by Garden State Offshore Energy includes the installation of 96 turbines to produce as much as 346 megawatts of electricity, enough to power tens of thousands of houses, starting in 2013. The turbines would be arranged in a rectangle about a half-mile long by one-third of a mile wide and would be placed 16 to 20 miles off the coast of New Jersey’s Atlantic and Ocean Counties, much farther out and in much deeper water than other proposed wind farms. Deepwater Wind, which will work with P.S.E.G. to build the wind farm, said it could affordably build turbines in 100 feet of water with the same technology used to build oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and other places.

Because the wind blows more reliably during the day farther offshore, the company expects to be able to more readily tap into the higher prices available on the power market at peak times. And by putting the turbines so far out, the company hopes to blunt opposition from environmentalists and residents who say that turbines diminish ocean views and damage wildlife.

“People don’t have to choose between clean energy and a clear view,” said Nelson Garcez, a vice president of P.S.E.G. Global. Mr. Garcez said the deep-water turbines would produce enough power to help the company break even in about seven years.

The next step is for Garden State Offshore Energy to seek permits from state and federal agencies to build offshore. The company will also have to get commitments from manufacturers to build the turbines, which would be assembled in New Jersey and could potentially create hundreds of new jobs.
Here is a map with the planned wind farm site.

Offshore wind has a lot of potential for easing some of our electric supply and replacing dirtier forms of power generation. On the U.S. East Coast wind resources are far better off shore than on shore, even on mountain ridges. That means that future eastern wind projects are likely to gravitate towards the coast, assuming that this project succeeds and further permits are forthcoming.

A big concern for birders is how much this and other proposed wind farms will affect wildlife, principally birds but also marine mammals and other aquatic creatures. Little research is available to answer that question, but at least one study suggests that waterbirds can avoid the turbines. For migrating birds, it remains an open question. There is an ongoing project here in Cape May that conducts regular ship-based visual surveys of birds offshore. I hope that the data they collect will influence the precise siting of the farm and turbines.