Going Deep to Renew Energy

QUINCY–Deep-water wind farms will top the agenda when U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., leads a congressional delegation to Germany this spring.

The trip will involve discussions of a variety of energy issues, said Delahunt, chairman of the bipartisan study group that includes current and former members of Congress.
But of particular interest to Delahunt, who represents Cape Cod and the Islands, are German renewable energy companies – including one involved in building a test deep-water wind farm off the German coast in the North Sea.

Some of the companies in this project ”are beginning to talk about a need for American subsidiaries,” Delahunt said. ”What better place than Massachusetts for this kind of foreign investment? Wind is to the Northeast, what oil is to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

”If we can interest them in Massachusetts, in the Northeast region as a whole, we could be talking not only about the development of a renewable energy site, but also of bringing new jobs to this area.”
In December, the German government announced it had joined forces with private energy companies to develop a deep-water wind farm in the North Sea, about 35 miles off the coast. The Germans are looking to build wind turbines in rough waters approximately 100 feet deep.
Germany will invest $65 million in the project Borkum West, with an additional $165 million invested by energy companies.

Deep-water wind farms–turbines installed in water more than 60 feet deep–are often touted as the future of wind energy in part because the ultimate payoff is bigger. Wind on open waters is more consistent and stronger than that closer to shore.

However, this is also one of the pitfalls. Deep-water sites are more expensive to build and maintain than their shallow-water counterparts.

By comparison, the Cape Wind proposal to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound would be considered a shallow-water project. Plans call for turbines to be built in water no deeper than 50 feet.
Deep-water turbines must be designed to survive more violent wave action and tougher offshore winds. So while deep-water projects have the potential to produce more energy, the initial investment is costly. And in Europe–where projects are under way to test deep-water technology–national governments have invested money with private developers.

The U.S. has yet to make such a commitment through its national energy policy. One of the challenges, said Delahunt, ”is our true commitment to investing in renewable energies.”

Experts disagree on whether the deep-water technology is viable now. Great Britain is engaged in a deep-water test project off the coast of Scotland, but turbines are just now being installed there in water up to 150 feet deep.

Some say it will be another 10 to 15 years before deep-water turbines will produce energy. Others say it could be just a matter of a few years before the emphasis shifts to deep-water sites because larger, more efficient wind farms can be built in open seas.

Delahunt, whose opposition to the Cape Wind proposal is well documented, said investigating and encouraging deepwater projects is something ”separate and apart from Cape Wind…This has to be part of an overall national energy policy,” he said.

”The Germans are forging ahead of us in the area of renewable energy, particularly in the area of wind energy,” he said. Massachusetts should invite international companies to look at this region for expansion and growth, particularly those companies engaged in renewable energy.”

Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind Associates, the private company forging ahead with plans to develop a 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, applauds Delahunt’s trip to Europe and his interest in renewable energy.

”But let’s keep in mind that Cape Wind is not theoretical,” said Rodgers. ”Cape Wind is buildable now.”