Offshore wind farms in Europe are incredibly popular and the offshore wind sector is providing an increasing amount of electricity to power grids. In comparison, in the US not a single wind turbine has been deployed off shore.
Here we look at the four main reasons why the offshore wind energy sector in the US is struggling to grow, or even begin.
1. Environmental opposition – Europeans are generally behind the development of offshore wind farms, and little opposition is raised when new ones are proposed, or installed. In the US however, environmentalists throw up strong opposition to potential offshore wind farms. In 2001 the Cape Cod wind farm was proposed, yet since then it has had to fight off dozens of lawsuits, and as a result not one turbine has yet been erected.
2. Government support – Congress did provide the wind energy sector with a much needed life support by renewing the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which gives the wind developers 2.2 cents for every kilowatt hour they produce, and the Incentive Tax Credit, which reimburses 30% of the wind farms construction costs. Unfortunately this is still not enough to make wind competitive with fossil fuels, which receive hugely lucrative subsidies.
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3. Lacking vital equipment – In order to secure the 450 tonne, 400+ foot tall turbine towers into the ocean floor a huge ship is needed, but as Chris van Beek, the president of Deepwater, mentioned, “at this point, there is not an existing vessel in the US that can do this job.”
Most ships that are capable of deploying offshore wind turbines exist in Europe, and fly European flags. Yet due to an old maritime law from 1920 called the Jones Act, any ship that sails between two US ports must fly a US flag and be registered in that country. The moment a turbine is secured to the seabed it counts as a port.
4. State government v Federal government – For offshore wind farms to be developed, a license must be gained for the site, and a contract drawn up with an electric utility which agrees to purchase the energy produced at a fixed rate for a set period of time. In Europe the governments can award both, and do so together as part of a package. In the US the licenses for the deep water sites are awarded by the Federal government, and the contracts with utilities are sorted by the state governments. It is possible for one to be awarded and the other not, and invariably long delays do occur.