Thursday, March 7, 2013

Near Shore Wind - Bargain Offshore Wind Farms

Some of the most amazing engineering feats in the recent past are the North Sea mega wind farms recently made (East Anglia, at 630 MW soon to be 840 MW) or under construction, ones which will eventually be rated at several thousand MW. A recent example is the Rampion 3 wind farm, which will be part of a complex of them - see Rampion 3 see also will be a 700 MW capacity project, and cost over $US 3 billion, but at least it will be invisible from land (23 km out to sea). The really big ones will cost more than a full fledged nuke ($US 10 to $US 15 billion), and are located so far out to sea that you can't see them, even with binoculars, from the shore. Thank God almighty, as there can be no greater disruption to the giant avalanche of propaganda that viewers of Faux News (or in Great Britain, Rupert Murdoch owned TV) receive to get their fix of bigotry and prejudice than to know that the TV where this slime is emanating from is powered by renewable energy. Where's pollution sourced electricity (nukes, coal, natural gas) when you really, really need it?

But those way out to sea wind farms come at a cost. For example, if you are a nefarious neoliberal economist/capitalist, you won't like these projects - they stimulate the economy, employ lots of unionized skilled labor and replace coal and nuke electricity generation plants, which are often used as cash cows that hardly employ anyone anymore. Yes the winds are slightly better where land cannot interfere with the flow of air, and that is one of the reasons to head way out to sea. But it costs a lot more money to install the foundations, turbines, offshore substations and underwater cables. And nearshore, where waves might only be 15 feet tall on a bad day, looks like easy sailing compared to 15 to 30 miles offshore, where the waves can be 60 feet or more tall in nasty storms, and where  storms are more intense (i.e. nastier). And it will also cost more to fix a turbine that gets temporarily disabled for any reason (software glitch or getting nailed by a lightning bolt where it hurts).  Even though the far offshore turbines are equipped with helicopter landing pads, well, try landing in 40 mph winds, where any plunge into ice-cold waters (300 feet drop from the nacelle) is likely to be the last thing you ever do. That work is not rated "wimp". The next generation of turbines will be the 6 to 8 MW ones - with 150 meter diameter rotors, each blade being 250 feet or so long - doing blade inspection also might be described as exciting work, similar to rescuing stranded mountain climbers.

At the rather minuscule Teeside wind farm in England, EDF Renewables (Electricitie de France, owned mostly by the French government) is installing a nearshore wind farm of 27 x 2.3 MW wind turbines. Those are almost considered "mini-turbines" these days - only 40 (130 feet) meter long blades, really dinky. EDF is installing these very close to shore (see picture -, and in the process  they are getting practice for bigger turbines and bigger arrays (some of which they will be installing off the coast of France next year). This 62 MW wind farm also does not need an offshore substation (at a couple hundred million dollars per unit); the electric cables will be connected to the onshore substation, at a significant savings. But for those hardy folk walking along on the beach next to that always frigid water on the Scottish-English border, unless it is really foggy or rainy or snowing (which probably happens more often than it is sunny), you will not be able to miss them. So does that ruin the view, or will in attract hordes of tourists to look at something other than those eternal whitecaps on the water underneath generally very grey skies? We know such a vision is antithetical to the Human Hairball known as Donald Trump, who absolutely hates nearshore wind turbines. But that is probably the best recommendation for them that one could probably hope for….

Another near shore unit is being installed in Holland's inland lake called the Noordosstpolder - this is the Westermeerwind project (  These will feature the 3 MW gearless Siemens (SWT-101) turbines placed in 3 rows paralleling the shore, ranging from 500 meters to 1100 meters from land (1640 to 3608 feet). So these will be VERY VISIBLE, almost deliberately so. But onshore, these units will be dwarfed by 38 of the word's biggest onshore turbines, the also fearless Enercon E-126 x 7.5 MW units that will have towed of 135 meters (probably 55 meters taller than the small Seimens units. This will become the Netherlands biggest wind farm at 429 MW. This is actually pretty small by US standards, but the Dutch live in a very densely populated country, where land is at a premium. Here is an artist's rendering of what it will look like on one of those rare sunny days in the Netherlands… (

Of course, we could do that in Lake Erie. There is 60 miles of windy coastline between Buffalo and the Pennsylvania (alias Fracksylvania) border. At about 4 per mile, 3 rows deep, that is around 2160 MW of potential for 3 MW made in USA turbines (though it probably won't all be done…especially at once). And at an average of a 45% net yield, that would average 972 MW, or roughly the quantity of pollution sourced electricity consumed in Western NY (plus the hydropower sold to industry and communities with municipally owned electric distribution systems, like Westfield and Jamestown).

Let's say by some miracle we all said "let's go for it" - besides, all we have to lose is a lot of air pollution and some of out unemployment. So just how much employment would be made at a cost of $4 million per MW of installed capacity (an estimate, since with nearshore turbines the wiring and offshore substation costs are minimized). Well, that would involve about 133,000 job-years of employment, somewhere. And if NYPA or an amalgam of governments owned it (with really low cost tax exempt bond financing), that might cost around 9 c/kw-hr for less or that electricity. Which is a bit pricey for around here as long as coal and natural gas prices are in the pits. But maybe it would be a bargain for LIPA, the Long Island Power Authority (also state owned, with tax exempt bond financing a possibility. From LIPA's point of view, this could be ideal, because nearshore Lake Erie turbines would be invisible to Long Island located Long Island residents (they could come up here for vacations to check them out), and evidently that is the main criteria for renewable power for Long Island - that the wind turbines not be seen. And they wouldn't be heard by anybody except those out in a boat near the units, probably fishing. And yes, fishing would be really good around the base of the turbines - way better than if they were not there.

Oh well, something to think about. That, and how we could squeeze more bucks out of the Long Islanders, who evidently are willing to pay up to 20 c/kw-hr to get electricity that is wind derived but which they cannot see spinning blades. Ever since Frankenstorm Sandy, their willingness to subsidize the economic basket case that WNY somehow devolved into is probably becoming strained, and can't be trusted to go on ad infinitum. Yes, there is a cost to maintaining a view that only a few get to see, since most of the beachfront is all bought up rich people - evidently, they are the only ones deemed worthy enough to watch the water and the sun setting upon it. With or without wind turbines upon the waters…. But still, 133,000 job-yrs of direct employment, of which we should be able to get a decent cut of that. For too many of us, the concept of a middle class job is but a figment of an imagination, or of a past no longer present. What would it be like to be employable, and employed again… Anyway, that's what is al;so at stake, though you'd hardly get an inkling based on the current ravings of so many politicians and Hedge Fund owners to plunge on down the insane rabbit hole of Austerity (Sequestration)…. and hurry up about it, too.

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