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Can’t Change the Direction of the Wind, USA

This week we’re talking US wind. It’s free, plentiful, carbon neutral and in the right hands could have a radical impact on the future.

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Until recently the only tapped version came from on-land sources, but that ship has sailed with the determination of Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski. Not only has he successfully developed the first offshore wind farm in the States – a 5-turbine project off Rhode Island which should power 17,000 homes, but he’s also recently celebrated the approval of its very big brother.

When South Fork Wind Farm (estimated cost $740bn) was approved just a few weeks ago, he said,This is a big day for clean energy in New York and our nation.  Governor Cuomo has set a bold vision for a clean energy future, and this project is a significant step toward making that a reality”.

He describes the initial plans for the 15-turbine development as “America’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm” and claims enough energy will be created to power more than 50,000 homes, helping “the State of New York meet its renewable energy goals and avoid the need for costly new energy infrastructure on the East End of Long Island.” Construction, it believes, could start as early as 2019. The New York Times estimate the location could support up to 200 turbines.

Deepwater Wind looks with hungry eyes to Europe where there are approximately 2,500 wind turbines and sees no good reason why it can’t be replicated in its own waters. Grybowski says, “We’re more confident that ever that this is just the start of a new U.S renewable energy industry that will put thousands of Americans to work and power communities up and down the East Coast for decades to come.”

Wind is in a boom period in the States. For the first time, installed wind capacity was greater than hydroelectric, according to the American Wind Energy Association. The American Wind Energy Association says there are wind farms in 41 states – and one of the most recent was developed in North Carolina.

This is the site of the Amazon Wind Farm US East, the first commercial-scale onshore wind farm in the state. There are 104 turbines producing enough energy to power 61,000 homes a year. The CEO of Avangrid Inc. James P. Torgerson welcomed the move saying, “We are committed to our vision of leading the transformation of the U.S. energy industry by developing, building and operating the clean energy infrastructure of the future.”

Support isn’t hard to find as elp.com reports, “Almost everyone in the community knows someone who worked on the wind farm, sold or rented something that helped build the wind farm, or owns land where the project was built,” said Cecil Perry, Chairman of the Pasquotank County Board of Commissioners. “These jobs, and this nearly $400 million investment in a rural part of North Carolina, are welcome — everyone in the county will benefit from the long-term property tax payments.” 

Total capacity is in excess of 82,000 MW whereas hydroelectric capacity is 80,000 MW. That figure was boosted by the second greatest increase in installations on record, which happened during Q4 in 2016. Almost 7000 MW was installed. The much-celebrated Governor Cuomo has announced that New York would commit to installing 2.4 GW of off-shore wind by 2030. At the same time, the state confirmed the closure of Indian Point (a 2 GW nuclear plant) by 2021.

The Governor’s Office believes this makes long-term sense. It used Superstorm Sandy as a reason to push ahead with the project, saying that South Fork would “provide greater reliability and resiliency for a part of the country very familiar with extreme weather events and outages.”

 Nationally there’s no shortage of money coming in either. AWEA CEO Tom Kieran told an audience from an assembly plant in General Motor’s factory in Texas that around 18,000 MW of wind capacity is in the pipeline – representing $60 bn over six years. In addition, the global manager for renewable energy at GM – Rob Threlkeld, said that it was aiming to have every single one of its operations powered by renewable by 2050. Currently half of the power at the Arlington plant is wind power and by next year it would be 100%.

 And quality counts. It is interesting to note the comment from renewablenergyworld.com that while China installed almost three times more wind power than it did in 2016 – with 23.3 GW compared to 8.2 GW – it generated only 241 TWh of wind power while the US generated 224 TWh in 2016 – the impact of an inadequate transmission infrastructure. Texas leads the US in wind power and unsurprisingly it is its superior transmission infrastructure which is credited.

 It’s truly tempting to get excited about the next chapter in the US’s wind journey – and to expect it naturally to be offshore. There’s just one fly in the ointment, and he calls himself The Donald.