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Friday, October 14, 2011

AWEA Offshore 2011: The Highlights

At last year's American Wind Energy Association Offshore Windpower Conference and Exhibition in Atlantic City, Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar and Jim Gordon from Cape Wind signed the first-ever submerged land lease for an offshore wind farm on the United States' federally managed outer continental shelf. Many of those in attendance last year fully expected that the lease-signing would signal an increase in project momentum-- and many industry participants and observers fully believed that construction on the Nation's first offshore wind farm might begin in 2011.

At this year's Offshore Windpower Conference and Expo, attendees spent three days discussing what has happened-- and what has not happened-- since October 2010. Here are some quick highlights from the event:

Secretary Salazar and Maryland Governor O'Malley Present Keynote

The Conference kicked off with a keynote address presented by Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, AWEA CEO Denise Bode, Michelle Siekerka from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and program co-chairs Aileen Kenney (Deepwater Wind) and Jim Lanard (Offshore Wind Developers Coalition).

Following last year's lease signing, Secretary Salazar's comments seemed a little more subdued this year. Although the Secretary did not release any industry-shaking news, he affirmed that both he and the Obama administration are committed to creating an offshore wind industry in the United States. To that end, Secretary Salazar announced that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management expects to announce lease agreements for as many as five wind farms in as little as a few weeks or months.

Deepwater Wind Announces Siemens as Turbine Supplier

Deepwater Wind announced that it signed an agreement with Siemens Energy to buy the company’s latest offshore wind turbines for deployment in the Block Island Wind Farm, a project that remains on track to be the nation’s first offshore wind farm.

Under the agreement, Siemens will supply five of its new 6.0-megawatt direct drive offshore wind turbines for the Block Island Wind Farm. This will be the first project in the United States, and one of the first anywhere in the world, to use the new turbine, which will be commercially available for the project.

The Block Island Wind Farm is one of several proposed small demonstration-scale offshore wind projects (such as Fishermen's Energy's proposed 6-turbine project to be located 2.8 miles off of Atlantic City, NJ) that may become the first offshore wind farm built in North America. The Block Island Wind Farm is a 30-megawatt project to be located in Rhode Island state waters. The project also includes a transmission cable connecting the island to the mainland grid for the first time. Pursuant to a heavily litigated but now approved 20-year power purchase agreement, National Grid has agreed to buy all of the output from the project.

The project is scheduled to be in the construction phase in 2013 or 2014, although the timing of construction is dependent on the permitting process and final turbine specifications.

Highlights from the Developers' Panel

The last session of the conference offered attendees to hear updates from two full panels of offshore wind developers actively pursuing offshore wind projects in the United States. The thirteen developers on the two panels represented the largest number of developer panelists ever put on stage at an AWEA Offshore Windpower Event.

Developers represented on the panel included: Tim Ryan (Apex Wind/ North Carolina), Ian Hatton (Baryonyx/ Texas), Bill Moore (Deepwater Wind / Rhode Island), Doug Copeland (enXco / California), Andy Kinsella (Mainstream Renewable Power/ United Kingdom), Erich Stephens (Offshore MW), Dennis Duffy (Cape Wind Associates/ Massachusetts), Daniel Cohen (Fishermen's Energy/ New Jersey), Chris Wisseman (Freshwater Wind/ Ohio), Robert Gibbs (Garden State Offshore Energy/ New Jersey), Peter Mandelstam (NRG Bluewater Wind/ Delaware), Carolyn Heeps (RES-Offshore), and Theo de Wolff (Seawind Renewable Energy Corp.).

Following an opportunity for each developer representative to provide an overview of his/her company and project status, the panel responded to questions from the audience. One of the most compelling responses was offered up by Theo de Wolff from Seawind Renewable Energy. Jim Lanard asked the panel to consider whether the Department of Energy's recent grants (bestowed upon research and development facilities seeking to lower the cost of offshore renewable energy projects) were supporting the right technologies. Mr. de Wolff responded by saying that, with all due respect to the Department of Energy, at least some of the $43 million in grant money would be better spent deploying existing offshore wind technology and getting "steel in the water." Mr. de Wolff's comments echoed the frustration of many industry participants in the audience who responded with enthusiastic applause.

Finally, Jim Lanard presented his closing remarks by setting forth three challenges. His first challenge was to the federal government. He asked federal officials to be prepared to respond to the question, "what have you done for this industry lately?" at next year's Offshore Windpower event in Virginia Beach. Second, Jim challenged state officials to work harder to develop markets and market-promoting mechanisms that will enable developers to get projects into the water sooner. Finally, he challenged the non-governmental organizations to report back on how to reach consensus among parties with different opinions, approaches, objections and concerns about offshore wind.

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