Offshore Wind: The Enormously Expensive Energy Alternative

By Steve Goreham

Originally published by The Washington Times

Offshore wind turbines at Barrow Offshore Wind...

Offshore wind turbines at Barrow Offshore Wind off Walney Island in the Irish Sea Unusually good weather for April! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The US Department of the Interior announced the first offshore wind energy lease sale earlier this month. Interior plans a July auction of 164,750 acres off the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts for commercial wind farms. But why are federal and state governments promoting expensive offshore wind energy?

The auction is a continuation of the “Smart from the Start” program for expediting offshore wind begun by former Energy Secretary Steven Chu and former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in 2011. Sally Jewell, the new Secretary of the Interior, has embraced the program, stating, “This is history in the making as we mark yet another major milestone in the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy. Today we are moving closer to tapping into the enormous potential offered by offshore wind to create jobs, increase our sustainability, and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier.”

Several governors joined the chorus for offshore wind. Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick supports the program, “The U.S. Department of Energy projects 20,000 jobs by 2020 in offshore wind. Why not host those jobs here in Massachusetts?” Maryland governor Martin O’Malley agreed, “Offshore wind is a potential win-win-win for Maryland. Today’s vote positions our State for greater job creation and opportunity, while moving us forward toward securing a more sustainable energy future.”

Governors also voicing strong support are Paul LePage of Maine, Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and even Ted Strickland of Ohio, who would place wind turbines in Lake Erie. In 2010, governors from ten states, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Virginia, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium to promote offshore wind development.

Unfortunately, offshore wind is enormously expensive. The US Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the levelized cost of wind-generated electricity at more than double the cost of coal-fired electricity and more than three times the cost of power from natural gas. For example, the proposed Cape Wind project off the coast of southeast Massachusetts will initially deliver electricity at 18.7 cents per kilowatt-hour with a built-in increase of 3.5 percent per year over a fifteen-year contract. This is more than triple the wholesale cost of electricity in New England.

Offshore wind is only possible because of generous subsidies, tax breaks, and mandates from government. Today, 38 states offer property tax incentives, 28 states offer sales tax incentives, and 24 states offer tax credits for renewable energy sources. Twenty-nine states have Renewable Portfolio Standards laws requiring utilities to buy an increasing share of electricity from renewable sources, including all ten states in the Offshore Wind Energy Consortium.

At the start of the year, the US government extended the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC), providing 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated from wind. The PTC will cost taxpayers $12 billion this year. Look for the DOE to offer loan guarantees to offshore wind developers. Altogether, government incentives pay 30 to 50 percent of the cost of a wind installation.

The consumer pays twice for offshore wind. First, consumer taxes fund wind energy subsidies and tax breaks. Second, states like Massachusetts force utilities to buy high-cost offshore wind electricity, which then increase electricity rates so the consumer pays again.

At the same time, we’re in the midst of a hydrocarbon revolution. Advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling will provide more than 100 years of natural gas at current usage rates. With electricity from natural gas at less than one-third the price of offshore wind, why the support for offshore wind from our political leaders?

Electricity from your wall outlet is standard voltage and current. No one can tell the difference between electricity from hydrocarbon sources or “green” sources such as wind. Would governors Patrick and O’Malley repurchase their current car at three times the price?

Wind energy backers claim that if the government subsidizes wind systems, the cost will come down. But that idea is false. Wind turbines are not new technology. After 25 years of installations, about 185,000 wind turbine towers were operating across the world at the end of 2011. Wind technology is already well down the cost learning curve.

In fact, data from the DOE shows that the installed cost of US wind systems has been rising, not falling. Installed costs have risen 65 percent over the last six years, from $1,300 per kilowatt in 2004 to over $2,100 per kilowatt in 2010.

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Underlying the push for offshore wind is the ideology of Climatism, the belief that man-made greenhouse gases are destroying Earth’s climate. But anyone who believes that building offshore wind turbines will stop the oceans from rising, make the hurricanes less severe, and save polar bears needs to reconsider. Suppose we invest in cost-effective electricity sources, rather than offshore wind?

Steve Goreham is Executive Director of the Climate Science Coalition of America and author of the new book The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania.

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AndyG55

A dread to think what the harmonics of the blades will do to marine species that use sonar etc for location.
But that is NOT important to the greenies and the environMENTALists.

Kaboom

That’s what goes for progress in green circles, the same product at three times the cost but without the reliability. They should be made to sign onto a health care plan like that.

Ian W

These are not ‘Energy Alternatives’ they are subsidy farms. You can tell subsidy farms as they are usually marked by windmills. When the subsidies are farmed out, the subsidy farming company moves on or declares ‘bankruptcy’ and the windmills are left to corrode. The subsidy farmers then move on to another subsidy rich area and begin subsidy farming again. Google: Abandoned windmills
This happens because the contracts for windfarms (and all ‘green energy) are full of get out clauses and have no real performance requirements. So the windmills will be allowed to kill and maim wildlife without penalty; they do not have to supply electricity to receive payment; when the windmills fail after 10 years into a 15 year contract there will be no penalties; there is no requirement to remove these industrial installations and make good the area at the end of their ‘useful life’; there is no risk for the supplier at all only for the taxpayer or end user of energy. Experience in UK is that the reason these green contracts are so soft and generous is that normally they are money laundering exercises allowing politicians to transfer taxpayer and consumer funds to their friends, families and political donors, .

Some refreshing truth on wind energy from of all things, a politician!
http://tinyurl.com/nv6po2h

David Brewer

It’s actually a lot worse than Steve Goreham thinks.
“Levelized costs”, applied to wind energy, are a scam. Intermittent and unpredictable energy from wind is a different product from dispatchable – ready when needed – energy from gas or coal.
Whether wind is worth it or not has got nothing to do with the per-kilowatt cost of wind vs. other energy. The correct equation is the cost of wind compared to its own value, i.e. its price on the market.
On this basis, wind is an inherent dud, since whenever it is available, it pushes down its own price.
Huge investments in wind power in Europe and Australia have sent electricity prices though the roof. Wind energy is not just useless, it pours money down the drain.
See the excellent paper on this by Prof. Gordon Hughes: http://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2012/08/Hughes-Evidence.pdf
or articles by Prof. Paul Joskow of MIT/Sloan, e.g.: http://www.energypolicyblog.com/2010/10/16/don%E2%80%99t-levelize-wind-and-solar-energy/

Joe Public

Think of all that free power they’ll generate during a hurricane!

NZ Willy

The “installed cost” has been rising for the simple reason that *actual* costs are comprising an increasing percentage of the calculation compared with *projected* costs. The estimates for offshore wind energy costs are, of course, all *projected*. The *actual* costs will be higher, far higher, ludicrously higher. Lunatics in charge.

Shona

This idea is so ridiculous with current technology. I would love to see a breakdown of how much energy it takes to keep these things up and running (literally), just the human maintenance cost must be astronomical (technicians can’t live on site because of the noise, they have to boat out and back every day). I bet it’s close to their output.
I have a friend who thinks windmills are great, ‘just hide them out to sea’. As I said ‘have you ever been on the high seas eg the North Sea?’. The answer was no of course.

Old'un

Ian W. – The Prime Minister’s father-in-law is an example: A couple of years ago he said that he makes a ‘modest income’ of some £300k per year from the wind turbines on his land!

Allan M

“Smart from the Start.”
Good job I’d finished drinking my morning tea*. Still have a dry keyboard.
* a British perversion.

DirkH

Are geneticists already looking for changes to sea bird genomes enabling them to avoid getting wacked? There should be a high selection pressure.

SAMURAI

The name of this inane program should be changed from, “Smart from the Start” to “Bungled from the Beginning”……
Wind energy destroys jobs, makes US goods uncompetitive, is expensive, diffuse, intermittent, inefficient, ineffective, UNsustainable and, well, stupid.
And what’s with the President’s “All of the Above” strategy. If you try such a stupid strategy to a multiple choice test, you get an “F” on the exam, which is the grade I’d BHO’s energy policy.
If I were President for a day, My first act would be to abolish the unconstitutional departments of EPA and Energy and let the states to decide their own environmental standards and let the market decide what energy sources to utilize.
I’d then establish the necessary rules, regulations and standards for Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors to be built and offer a $1 billion prize to the first company that could build and operate a LFTR capable of producing electricity at an all-in cost of $0.03/kWh.
The current political and economic disasters we’re facing reminds me of a corollary to Woody Allen’s famous line, “Those that can, do. Those that can’t teach, and those that can’t teach become politicians…”

RSS numbers are out for May, and show a similar drop to UAH.
Current temperatures are effectively the same as the 1981-2010 average.
Global warming?
http://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/rss-figures-for-may/

Ian E

‘Kaboom says: June 8, 2013 at 12:25 am
That’s what goes for progress in green circles, the same product at three times the cost but without the reliability. They should be made to sign onto a health care plan like that.’
We have one of those in the UK : it’s called the NHS; then there’s the media plan – called the BBC.

Richard111

Tripling the cost of energy improves competitiveness. Got it.

Sasha

In the UK, the cost of generating a unit of electricity worth £1 from a coal-fired power station costs £24 when generated from an offshore wind turbine. That’s why we have the highest electricity bills and yet the most unstable electricity supplies in the EU. Last March, the coldest on record, we were down to 3 days supply of natural gas.

johnmarshall

Catastrophically costly madness. How are they in hurricanes? I hear that the US east coast gets a few of those. They do not cure the problem either. Oh I forgot, there is no problem just mad politicians who love spending tax dollars, ie., YOUR money.

Wondering what happens when a hurricane passes by? Do NH hurricanes have the same propensities as SH cyclones, eg concentrated vortices, high-low-high pressure effects?
I assume that these things get shut down, but a bit difficult to imagine how they are going to stay in one piece.

johnofenfield

Windmills are NOT an alternative source of electricity by any criterion. They produce the wrong sort of electricity at the wrong time. Their output is completely unpredictable and is useless, in fact damaging, in a modern generating & grid system.
About all they are useful for is grinding corn and mincing bird meat. Costs don’t even come into it.

Bruce Cobb

It’s wonderful having thieves, liars and nincompoops in charge of energy policy, and paying more because of it. Anger is a good motivator.

And if NexTerror NextEra (formerly known as Florida Power and Light) happens to be the supplier of choice, you’d better mind your manners and not complain about these useless landscape-blighting, budget-busting, fuel-poverty inducing bird-mincers.
‘Cuz if you do complain, this Big Wind bully will eventually SLAPP you with a lawsuit.
https://twitter.com/ezralevant/status/342063820929372160
and
https://twitter.com/ezralevant/status/342423552198311937

richard verney

Having had about 30 years experience in shipping, I am quite convinced that the rigours of a harsh off-shore environment have been underestimated. I suspect that the cost effective life expectancy will be far less than assumed and that the costs of maintenance (and the difficulties involved) have also been very much under-estimated.
To give just one example, due to health & safety considerations, it will not be permissible to work on these structures in adverse weather (heavy rain and wind). These farms are, for obvious reasons, sited in areas which are more windy the norm. This may be good for electricity generation but will make maintenance more difficult. Since weather is notoriously difficult to predict, it will not be known the dates when a weather window opportunity will open up permitting maintenance to be carried out. This presents logistical problems with the chartering in of supply vessels, or vessels with cranes. Say that in June one takes a decision to carry out maintenance in the second week of July. The estimated duration of the required maintenance is one week. Vessels are chartered in and arrive say on 8th July. Unfortunately bad weather sets in and does not clear until 17th July. But the vessel has only been fixed for 8th to 15th July so has to be released, and a new arrangement made for a later date. Perhaps the vessel is not released but continuesd on site and maintenance commences on 17th July but weather again sets in on 22nd July and the job in the end is not completed until 31st July. In this scenario, the supply vessel will be cartered not for one week but for 24 days. Hire will have to be paid for 24 days not just 7 days. The shipowner may have another contract that he was contracted to perform on say 16th July. He may have to pay damages for the failure to perform that contract. The windfarm will have to pay damages to the shipowner to cover that loss. There may be penalty provisions for over-runs etc. The upshot is that since the weather is fickle, pre-planned maintenance will be difficult and is likely to prove expensive.
Of course, the windfarm may wis to spot charter vessels as and when a weather window is open. But spot chartering on this basis carries with it premium hire rates.
This type of problem may of course involve the chartering in of helicopters paying men for standby time/idle time etc.
One final point is that carrying out maintenance at sea is always much more difficult compared to land. Just imagine the difficulties of precision engineering requiring the use of a crane. On land, everything is static and hence the job is straight forward. However at sea, there will be picth and roll as the vessels bobs up and down in the swell and waves.
To conclude, all of this will prove very expensive and will act as a disentive to carry out maintenance. I suspect that it will soon be discovered that carrying out maintenance is not cost effective and instead turbines will stand idle/not working. This will have a significant bearing on the cost effectiveness of an off-shore facility

Disputin

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying “America can always be trusted to do the right thing – once they’ve tried everything else”.
Don’t your people ever look around at others’ experience? Try the Netherlands, Germany and UK for a start.

gbaikie

This is the sort of thing which makes members of Congress very rich.
And makes a boom town in areas in Washington DC, while continuing longest national recession
in history.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

Interior plans a July auction of 164,750 acres off the southern coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts for commercial wind farms.
Good thing there’s no tourism industry up there, with many thousands of tourists wanting their unobstructed ocean views.
Nor any commercial fishermen, or fishing period, as it’d be deemed too hazardous to have nets and ropes and lines around the pilings. No boats at all would be best, due to the possibility of being suddenly violently hit with chunks of former seagulls.
Thankfully it’d do wonders for the local shark populations, who will learn to listen for lots of whooshing as an indicator there may soon be a lot of chum raining down from the sky.
Will the buyers have to put up a bond for each turbine to ensure they will be removed after they eventually die? It will be preferred to remove these hazards to navigation in case boat traffic is allowed to resume someday. And it needs to be the full amount up front, not a bank certificate that will mature to that amount “after 30 yrs at the expected end of life”. Ocean storms thrash the brand new as well as the old, they don’t care if they’ve irreparably broken something commissioned only a month ago, or that’s still under construction.

Rod

Talking with fire fighters using monsoon bucket filled in the sea. Every time the helicopter refuelled, they had to clean the blades. Why? because salt crystals on the blade reduce the lift by 400KG (880lbs) and this on a 4 seat helicopter. Not sure what % but it’s significant.
So what does this mean for offshore wind power? Big inefficiency because salt on the blades significantly reduce lift and therefore power generated. Wind turbines aren’t blown around, they use lift to power them. Reduce lift, reduce power for generation.
Who would have thought, salt crystals at sea?!

You folks seem to be confusing installed costs with generating costs. According to IEA http://www.iea.org/textbase/npsum/ElecCostSUM.pdf, installed costs estimates are coal, $1500/kWh, nuclear and (on shore) wind are estimated to have about the same installed cost ranging up to $2,000/kWh. Generating costs: coal $35-$60/MWh, Nuclear $30-$50/MWh, wind $45-$140/MWh. Natural gas is ~$800/MWh with generation costs are <$40-$60/MWh because of lower natural gas prices. Diesel-electric peaking can be installed for something in the neighborhood of $1000-$1500/kWh, but the costs are dependent on oil and right now are about $250/MWh. Renewable (other than wind) installed costs are all over the map. Landfill-gas-to-electricity projects can be installed for $700/kWh, but the preferred equipment runs the installed costs to $2500/kWh. Generating costs are somewhere around $30-$50/MWh. Most renewable energy have capacity factors that limit their usefulness and have a significant impact on costs. Also, generating capacity for renewables is quite low. I've been supported by renewable (landfill gas to electricity) for over a decade. As long as the gas is cheap energy, it probably works. I do not see the economics in wind and solar, nor do I see the viability of other renewable combustion. You cannot grow enough biomass to make these any more than interesting sideshows.

H.R.

Offshore windmills? They’ll make great artificial fishing reefs when they collapse. However I think the better way to make the reefs would be to just take the windmills out to sea and dump them. All that erection cost is just so much wasted money. Let’s make this a cost effective boondoggle, eh? ;o)

JohnH

(Cash) Cost is a concern, of course, but I would like to see cost-benefit analysis in CO2 cost (and CO2 benefit) terms published openly and in detai for any intended scheme, so that any flaws can be pointed out and the analysis corrected. My fear is that schemes which actually make things worse in CO2 terms may be undertaken.

Henry Galt

Show me the jobs.

Hey Mosh,
These are the kind of freeloading subsidy takers you should really be pissed off at, not BIG OIL.

Snotrocket

“Smart from the start”Dumb from the gun!

Graeme No.3

Shona says:
running costs: well the average wind turbine (2-2.5MW Nominal capacity) will use 1-3kW per hour when idle (around 30% of the time). That is for on-shore turbines. In light variable winds an offshore wind farm can be a net user of electricity as yaw motor draws from the grid ( ref. Horns Rev 1)
They don’t take boats out for maintenance, as Richard Verney notes, you have to maintain when the weather is right or your turbine will be down for a long time. Usual is helicopter either landing, or winching maintenance men onto nacelle. Can’t help you on costs of helicopter (and wages of those willing to do job) but estimated in UK that maintenance absorbs 10% of revenue of on-shore turbines, and multiply by 2.5 times for offshore one (but allow for higher output). Also allow for much higher wear and tear on offshore units, hence shorter lifetime).
Re enthusiasm by various State Governors – to translate into USA speak a comment by former Australian Federal Treasurer “never stand between a State Governor and a big bag of money”.

Graham Green

Here’s a fact.
I live 10km from the Thanet Wind Farm – the biggest offshore project in Europe.
Plate capacity 300 MW. Cost $1.4 billion (£900 M).
It has bought exactly 25 jobs to Thanet all working for a foreign company.
25 jobs. Count ’em.
The really funny thing is that they seem proud of it.

“Smart from the Start”?
Please correct the typo, it should read stupid, not smart.

Wind farms can’t solve a non problem. This is worth watching.

hunter

Wow, why wouldn’t you want to build vulnerable windmills in a corrosive environment that is difficult to maintain, costs huge money to build operate and maintain, requires on going operating subsidies for the life of the project, is unscalable, and destroys the open vistas of the ocean?

Joe Public says: June 8, 2013 at 1:12 am “Think of all that free power they’ll generate during a hurricane!” There is good evidence, post here recently, that these windmills will not withstand a hurricane. See the Pareto Distribution.
Post-modern windmills are a scam says Sancho PONZI squire to don Quixote.comment image

David

richard verney has encapsulated the problems which I (as a retired mechanical engineer specialising in maintenance) have been banging on about for ages.
I seem to recall one of these ‘learned’ governors (I think it was the Governor of Maryland) enthusing about the fact that the turbines would be ‘between ten and thirty miles offshore’…
Now, I’m no expert in the weather of the North Atlantic – only insofar as us Brits ‘enjoy’ the tail-end of it – but I personally wouldn’t give a wind farm located in that area a cat-in-hell’s chance of surviving for more than five years…
Nope – classic example of political enthusiasm ignoring engineering reality…

There are consequences when the largest consumer economy does wasteful things
http://tinyurl.com/wind-babies
When the US Economy is dragged down by Ideological Climatism, other people pay the price.

From the state of the sea in the photo, no electricity is being produced.

John Campbell

Wind farms increase CO2 emissions. How? Well, the wind doesn’t blow all the time. So there has to be standby power available at very short notice. Stanby power is usually provided by a gas-fired power station. This will be running for around 30% of the time in standby mode (wind farm “efficiency” is about 30%) and such a mode emits more CO2 than if it were running at its normal rate. Thus windmills mean more CO2 emissions. Go figure!

Mick

………and there’s the massive amount of CO2 released in the production of the concrete to bed each turbine to the sea floor! Do the people that support this kind of idea really care about the environment?

Kaboom

I propose the program be renamed to “Buggered by Bastards”. Excuse the french.

So much for “the wind is free” arguments of yore.

Offshore wind farms have an enormous advantage over land based. Dead men tell no tales. Birds and bats killed by the farms are swept away by the currents and eventually sink out of sight.

bernie1815

I am not sure what is more troubling, the impact of wind on overall energy costs or the stupidity of Governors who embrace this nonsense.

chris y

Josh had an excellent cartoon last year of the bucolic view before and after wind farms are deployed.
http://www.epaw.org/images/Greening_the_land.png
The cost of a wind farm needs to include the cost of a dispatchable power plant with equivalent nameplate capacity. Same for solar PV farms.
I maintain that solar PV farms should be sited near natural gas pipelines, and include a natural gas plant with equivalent nameplate capacity on the same property.
Then to save capital costs, drop the solar PV part…

George

Hey, at least it may reduce the number of bird strikes … jeez
(that did get me thinking – do VAWTs have fewer bird strikes?)