Clean energy gaining momentum
Sept 18, 2009 - Patrick Cassidy - McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
The future of marine renewable energy in the United States could include a large testing zone south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, shared port facilities among states, and an electrical transmission grid buried beneath the seabed connecting offshore wind farms.
"You're forced at one point to focus on the nuts and bolts," Greg Watson, senior adviser to Gov. Deval Patrick for clean energy technology, said yesterday after appearing at the second annual Ocean Energy for New England Conference at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis.
Sponsored by the Marine Renewable Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, the conference featured industry representatives, environmental advocates and policy experts. The message: Collaborative efforts to build infrastructure and test technologies for offshore renewable energy projects are gaining momentum. Cooperation was likely spurred by an increase in education and awareness of energy issues in recent years, Watson said.
The "nuts and bolts" include the extension of the country's electric grid into the ocean and the establishment of port facilities that might be shared by states even as they continue to compete for first-in-the-nation status across an array of marine renewable energy technologies, Watson said.
A new group formed by Watson and others is designed to bring states and other interests together to discuss ways to support ocean-based wind energy projects, including addressing underlying infrastructure needs and regulatory hurdles.
The U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative will focus on wind energy in state and federal waters, but it also represents an opportunity for other offshore renewable energy proposals, said John Miller, executive director of the Marine Renewable Energy Center.
"They're advocating for the biggest potential resource, and that's understandable," Miller said of the collaborative. But wave and tidal projects could provide more predictable backup for the intermittent production of energy from wind turbines, he said.
The center is working with Edgartown and Nantucket on a tidal energy project in Muskeget Channel between Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.
Miller's organization also hopes to establish the National Offshore Renewable Energy Innovation Zone, an area that would extend 30 miles south from Muskeget Channel and include testing opportunities for wind, wave and tidal projects.
Delays faced by early projects such as Cape Wind highlight the need for cooperation, Miller said.
Cape Wind is waiting for Interior Department approval, which is dependent on a review of the impact the 130-turbine project might have on historical and tribal sites.
"The target is still sometime in 2009," said Robert LaBelle, deputy associate director for offshore energy and minerals management at the Minerals Management Service, the lead federal agency to review Cape Wind.
Cape Wind is excited about the prospect of a collaborative approach to wind energy development, company president Jim Gordon, who did not attend the conference, said later. "I think Cape Wind can be an excellent role model for the industry," he said.
Gordon and other industry representatives will likely serve a role with the wind collaborative, Watson said. The U.S. can learn a lot from Europe, Watson and Gordon said.
"Certainly people I spoke to in Europe said it is really important to get a project in the water," Gordon said.
The U.S. offshore wind energy market has great potential, but the industry's supply chain is waiting for demand to kick in for offshore equipment, he said.