Aug 19, 2010

Massachusetts deepwater floating windpower plan makes Cape Wind obsolete?

Blue H Group, a Dutch company, announced this week that it wants to build 120 floating wind turbines in deep water 23 miles off Martha's Vineyard.

The company is seeking government approval to install a test turbine. 

Blue H officials then joined with the main opposition group fighting Cape Wind's proposed wind farm off Cape Cod in touting Blue H as a viable alternative that would be far from ferry lanes and invisible from shore.

"If you had a horse and buggy and then the automobile was invented, it makes sense to embrace the technology moving forward," said Blue H spokesman Martin T. Reilly.

There's only one problem: No one knows whether a floating wind farm will work.

Modeled after deep-sea oil rigs, the float technology has never been applied to wind turbines in the deep ocean. In December, Blue H launched the world's first floating turbine, an 80-kilowatt demonstration project off the coast of southern Italy. Soon, the turbine will be moved about 10 miles offshore to water more than 350 feet deep. Blue H plans to launch the world's first commercially operating floating turbine off Puglia by the fall.

Yet wind specialists say that it is unlikely that a commercial-scale floating wind farm will be operating anytime soon.

"I don't think they can get a large-scale operation going in two to three years, but the first step is to get a single experimental turbine up," said Walt Musial, principal engineer for ocean renewable energy at Colorado's National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The idea for a floating wind farm off the Vineyard, in water 167 feet deep, would need to overcome numerous technical obstacles, such as determining how big the floating platforms' submerged structure should be to support a turbine, how ocean currents will affect the dynamics of the structure, and even how the transmission cable will operate, Musial said.

Cape Wind president Jim Gordon said he does not worry that new technology will outpace his project and render his seven-year investment in Nantucket Sound moot. "There will be a whole range of issues that they'll need to confront," he said.

"I think we need all the renewable energy we can get," Gordon added. "Certainly, if they can get through the development process, then we welcome them and wish them well."
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