Geo SubSea Part 2: US History of Offshore Wind & the Park City Wind Project

Contributed by:

Jeff Gardner – President, Marine Geologist & Oceanographer
Elizabeth Spielman – Administrator & Associate Scientist, Geologist in Training

To read Jeff & Elizabeth’s first post in Geo SubSea’s blog series, click here. 

View Geo SubSea’s website here.

Offshore Wind in the United States

The timing of this post is very appropriate, as federal approval of the US’s first large scale commercial offshore wind farm was just issued Tuesday May 11th to Vineyard Wind 1 LLC, located 15-25 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard on the continental shelf. This is a huge milestone and historic moment for the industry, as numerous companies have tried to develop offshore wind projects over the last 20+ years but most have not been successful due to a variety of road blocks. The stars appear to be aligned now with the new administration and significantly renewed interest in US offshore wind over the last 4-5 years. The industry is poised to explode and produce thousands of megawatts of renewable energy for powering homes and businesses on the east coast, not to mention thousands of good paying jobs and a substantial economic boom. It is truly an exciting time to be involved in the offshore energy industry.

While a number of projects were proposed, studied, surveyed, and even permitted from 2000-2015, only one was actually constructed, the Block Island Wind Farm (BIWF) and Transmission System (BITS) located in Rhode Island state waters south of the island. This was the first offshore wind farm built in the US in 2015-2016. It consists of a meager 5 turbines each generating 6 MW of power (Figure 1), but it was a good place to start. Electricity goes to Block Island with excess generation transmitted to the mainland via an export cable to Scarborough Beach.

Figure 1: Looking south across Great Salt Pond at the five wind turbines installed in Rhode Island state waters for Deepwater Wind, now owned by Orsted.

Interesting to note, while not a full scale wind turbine or project of any significant size, the Aqua Ventus demo project (University of Maine pilot project for floating wind technology) installed a 1/8th scale turbine in Castine Harbor, Maine in June 2013 (Figure 2) with an export cable to shore that can legitimately claim to be the first offshore wind facility to transmit electricity to the mainland grid. The Aqua Ventus project is still alive and well and aiming to deploy 1-2 floating test turbines south of Monhegan Island at some point in the future.

Figure 2: VolturnUS design floating turbine in Castine Harbor 2013.

Technology Aside: The majority of offshore wind turbines are built upon fixed foundations, i.e. monopiles or multiple jacket piles in generally shallow water (less than 200 feet) that are driven 75-100+ feet into the seabed, depending on the subsurface geology. Piles are engineered and designed for each specific location and manufactured for the precise geologic conditions to maintain stability in high winds and remain standing through major storms. This is ideal for many shallow coastal regions of the US but deep water encroaches significant portions of the inner shelf so new technology (floating structures, like the University of Maine design in Figure 2) is required to harness wind energy in those regions (offshore Maine, Pacific Coast).

Back to 2020, when a demo project for Dominion Energy 27 miles offshore Virginia Beach was constructed to test the viability of offshore wind generation in that section of the Mid-Atlantic continental shelf (Figure 3). Two 6 MW turbines were installed for the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) Project, the first constructed in federal waters, with plans to follow with another 188 turbines to be installed in 2024-2026.

These two turbines represent numbers 6 and 7 TOTAL in US offshore waters, compared to thousands of turbines operational offshore Europe and the UK region. Unfortunately, the US is far behind schedule in harnessing this renewable energy source, but there is hope now as an incredible energy transition is underway in the US.

Figure 3: CVOW turbines installed 27 miles off the Virginia coastline in 2020.

This brings us to the first commercial scale wind farm approved for installation in US offshore waters, Vineyard Wind 1, with turbines to be erected south of Martha’s Vineyard and an export cable going north through Nantucket Sound to the south shore of Cape Cod. Overall project construction starts this year with offshore submarine cables and wind turbines set for installation in 2022. The project will include 62-75 turbines 13 MW each (primary and spares), for a total generating capacity near 800 MW. Power will be delivered to the New England onshore transmission grid and used in the State of Massachusetts.

Park City Wind Project

Vineyard Wind’s next big project will bring clean renewable energy to the State of Connecticut as part of the Park City Wind Project, an 804 MW venture also located south of Martha’s Vineyard (in Lease OCS-A 0501) but with the power exported via transmission lines to the New England onshore grid and straight to Connecticut. The wind farm needs to be constructed out in the open ocean versus Long Island Sound due to the average annual wind speeds and resource potential which decreases in the Sound behind Long Island. It is estimated the project will supply up to 14% of the state’s electricity supply and avoid emitting 25 million tons of carbon during its life span.

The project is named after the City of Bridgeport where onshore staging of offshore components is planned at the Barnum Landing waterfront property on the east side of the harbor. The 18 acre parcel will be renovated for handling turbine foundation fabrication and final outfitting, according to Vineyard Wind press releases. Also planned for Bridgeport is the operations and maintenance facility for servicing the turbines after the project is built, a 25+ year commitment. It is clear the project will help revitalize Bridgeport by bringing thousands of jobs and economic investment to the area. Very exciting for Connecticut!

Figure 4: Schematic of the Barnum Landing property renovation for the Park City Wind Project.

Moving Forward

Geo SubSea is very proud to have played a part in all these projects, and continues to support numerous offshore wind development opportunities. Tremendous momentum for offshore renewable energy has been building for some time both in the US and in other underutilized regions globally (SE Asia, Australia, New Zealand, more) and appears to be finally ready to explode on the scene here. Climate change is forcing a new reality to be accepted in order to reduce our negative effects on the Earth and cope with natural resource challenges. Offshore wind is just one piece of the puzzle combined with onshore renewable technology and continued use of fossil fuels; it needs to be a strategic mix of power sources until such time that renewables can safely handle all energy demands. Conservation, recycling, and personal growth and education are all key factors as well, to help move our society toward sustainability into the coming decades. Here at Geo SubSea, we do our small part in trying to make this a reality and a blueprint for how we live our daily lives. The power is in the numbers; if all people in all the communities around the US and world worked to reduce their impact each day….

Stay safe and healthy until our next post,

Jeff and Liz

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