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Offshore Wind: Brighter Future?

This week we saw two signals that the nascent US offshore wind industry might finally find its feet. Yesterday the Department of the Interior announced a date for the nation’s first ever competitive offshore wind auction, for two leases with an estimated capacity of up to 3,395 MW. (A couple of other offshore wind projects, such as Cape Wind, have non-competitive leases.) The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold the sale, covering 164,750 acres south of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, on July 31. Companies expected to participate include Deepwater Wind, EDF, Energy Management Inc (which owns Cape Wind), Fishermen’s Energy, Iberdrola, Neptune Wind, Sea Breeze Energy, U.S. Mainstream Renewable Power and US Wind.

Perhaps more momentously, the country’s first offshore turbine took to the water this week, courtesy of the University of Maine, with partners including Iberdrola and Goldwind. The 65-foot machine (pictured) has a capacity of just 20 kW, but its launch feels monumental for an industry that has been in bureaucratic limbo for over a decade, watching its fortunes rise and fall as Europe and Asia forge ahead. The university also plans to have a 12 MW commercial project by 2016.

Both developments strengthen hopes that the US may finally start to tap the enormous renewable energy resources lying just off its major East Coast population centers. But concerns over the high price of offshore wind remain. BOEM lease winners will need to secure power purchase agreements with utilities for the wind farms’ output – which may well be the developers’ biggest challenge.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

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