Offshore wind farms are no public benefit

The Obama administration and Department of Interior (DOI) have announced their planned Jan 29, 2015 auction of hundreds of thousands of acres of North Atlantic ocean area to wind developers under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

While U.S. energy policy should address the needs of citizens for reliable energy sources that are commercially reasonable and reasonably safe, offshore wind has historically failed to deliver these public benefits to Europeans.  

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UK’s offshore wind energy projects' results should serve as the catalyst for termination by the administration of its proposed ocean auction to wind limited liabilities corporations.  U.S. rate and taxpayers are unacceptably exposed by this administration’s blind eye to the UK’s failed offshore wind program.   Neither the ocean area the federal government holds in trust for U.S. citizens, nor U.S. citizens themselves,  should be exploited by an industry that historically fails to deliver public benefits.    

Germany’s flagship BARD Offshore I is a 400MW wind project intended to supply the energy needs of 400,000 households.  But Bard Offshore 1 remains out of operation according to industry source Offshore Wind Biz (June 2014) citing: “frequent technical problems with the converter substation,”  “a smoldering fire,” “failure of the system,” “five unplanned outages since the beginning of 2014” and “transmission problems.”

WindPowerOffshore (September 19, 2014) reports the Danish company Vattenfall is going to dismantle the Yttre Stengrund in Swedish waters after only 13 years of operation. “Only one in (5) turbines is currently operational.”

Europe’s offshore wind energy endeavors reveal the challenges of the harsh and corrosive marine environment.  GE deployed the Cape Wind prototype GE 3.6 MW wind turbines at Arklow, the wind farm offshore of Ireland.  GE subsequently “discontinued” the Cape Wind 3.6 MW wind turbine even while Cape Wind, the wind farm planned for offshore Massachusetts, was under permit review by the DOI. That review advanced Cape Wind as a “reliable” energy source. 

Cape Wind changed specifications to Siemens 3.6 MW during their power purchase contract negotiations with the national grid.  But Siemens is not boasting offshore wind success, according to the Wall Street Journal [1/08/14]: 

“Siemens, the world’s largest manufacturer of offshore wind turbines, and its partners concede they underestimated the challenges behind offshore wind. The financial fallout from these challenges was highlighted on Thursday, when Siemens said it booked €128 million ($171 million) in new charges related to connecting offshore wind farms to the power grid. It blamed unexpectedly high costs for shipping, installing and starting up grid components.” 

A Spiegel International article ‘Turbine Trouble: Ill Wind Blows for German Offshore Industry’ says, “Operators of offshore wind farms depend on sufficiently high electricity prices to refinance their investments.”  This runs contrary to public interest. Citizens need commercially reasonable energy sources that are reliable, while offshore wind energy technology is historically not reliable, yet its price is high.  

The stunning and sobering candor of an executive of the “world’s largest” manufacturer of wind turbines, Vestas, would be comical if not for the serious context — billions in public funding along with the sacrifice of  the thousands of ocean acres that DOI intends to grant to wind LLCs.

In 2011, Anders Søe-Jensen, then president of the offshore division at Vestas said, “It’s a bit like buying an old crappy car. It’s starts cheap, but spends most of the time in the workshop costing you a fortune, so you didn’t drive much, and your cost per driven mile is staggeringly high. It’s the same with the cost of energy when you look at capital expense and operating costs with overall production.” 

While President Obama’s energy goals should be to deploy energy sources that are commercially reasonable, reliable, and reasonably safe, based on the  best science, offshore wind has miserably failed to deliver public benefits to Europeans.   

U.S. citizens are entitled to a fair return for the use of the nation’s oceanic resources.  It’s not too late for President Obama to call off the January 29, 2015 DOI North Atlantic auction that would exclusively serve the interests’ of wind developers.  

Durkin is a retired realtor, a small business owner and a resident of central Massachusetts.