Construction delays and energy economics appear to have cost two offshore wind-energy demonstration projects in Oregon and Virginia millions of dollars in federal grants, allowing two others in Maine and Ohio to accelerate their own development efforts.
The U.S. Energy Dept. on May 27 said Cleveland-based nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.’s 18-MW Icebreaker, the first U.S. freshwater offshore wind-energy project, and the University of Maine’s 12-MW Aqua Ventus I project would join the Atlantic City Windfarm, developed by Fishermen’s Energy, Cape May, N.J., in a program that could gain each project up to $40 million in new funds over three years for construction.
They replaced the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project, sited off the coast of Virginia Beach, and the WindFloat Pacific project in Coos Bay, Ore. Those projects and the one in New Jersey were selected for the DOE program in 2014, receiving $10.7 million in grants. As alternates, Icebreaker and Aqua Ventus I received $3.7 million each.
But during reviews, DOE determined the Virginia and Oregon projects did not meet required performance milestones. In a statement, Dominion Virginia Power, team leader of the 12-MW Virginia project, cited high costs, permitting issues and an “inability to get firm construction contracts,” among other reasons, for why it could not guarantee test-unit activation before 2020. Dominion’s partners include engineer-contractor KBR and substructure designer Keystone Engineering. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Media reports say the 30-MW WindFloat, developed by Principle Power, Berkeley, Calif., was unable to find buyers for its energy. Earlier this year, Oregon’s Offshore Wind Advisory Committee determined that utilities would not be required to buy WindFloat power, which was projected to be four times the cost of electricity generated by land-based turbines.
Developers of both the Virginia and Oregon projects say they are assessing options and have not announced whether work will continue since they are no longer eligible for DOE grants.
Officials of the Maine and Ohio projects say they have made significant progress toward DOE’s objective of full operation.
Aqua Ventus I was “the first and only” demo project to connect to a power grid, says Habib Dagher, the project’s University of Maine leader. He says the project team, which includes contractor Cianbro Corp., Emera Inc. and France-based DCNS, optimized design with a 1:8-scale prototype and applied commercial-scale manufacturing to reduce steel requirements in its foundation.
“We’ve also secured a 20-year power-purchase agreement from the Maine Public Utilities Commission, finalized all the permits and have a good, competitive financial plan,” Dagher says.
Lorry Wagner—president of the Ohio developer, which includes 15 local firms—says use of 45-ft-dia steel foundations, or “mono buckets,” to anchor Icebreaker’s six 3.45-MW turbines was particularly attractive to DOE. “There’s significantly less equipment to install, which reduces construction time on the water,” he says of the mono buckets, developed by Universal Foundation of Denmark. “We also received competitive bids from several manufacturers in the Midwest and the Gulf Coast,” which would allow production close to other U.S. wind-farm sites, he notes.
While the Fishermen’s Energy project has until year-end to secure energy purchase deals to stay grant-eligible, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and the state Board of Public Utilities have opposed the project based on its power costs.