Experimental Turbines, Risk and the Looming Offshore Wind Boom

Despite major reservations, the State Corporation Commission has approved the two-turbine Commonwealth of Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project at a cost of $300 million. The idea is to test a novel design of turbine blades and deep-water mooring before proceeding with a full-scale $1.8-billion wind farm off Virginia Beach. The logic, as I have understood it, is that it will be much easier to justify and finance the construction of dozens of turbines if we are secure in the knowledge that they will hold up in hurricane conditions, not disintegrate or topple over.

But now, based on his reading of SCC testimony, Steve Haner wrote recently on this blog, “The demonstration project will not be using the same turbine technology planned for that larger project and will not have time to demonstrate much of anything before a decision is made on the larger project.”

What?

Let me repeat that. WHAT?

Rhode Island has completed a small wind farm off Block Island, and other states along the Atlantic Coast have committed to billions of dollars of wind farm projects. More than 8,000 megawatts of offshore wind development are supported by state policy in five Atlantic states, according to “Wind Power to Spare: The Enormous Energy Potential of Atlantic Offshore Wind,” a report of the Frontier Group. As of February 2018, 13 Atlantic offshore wind projects had leases and were “moving forward.”

None of the other states have expressed reservations about the ability of their turbines to withstand harsh weather conditions. None of them are building their own experimental turbines. They seem ready to charge right ahead. Indeed, Danish energy giant Ørsted is so confident that a U.S. offshore market is developing that it has created a new entity, Ørsted US Offshore Wind, and has spent $510 million to acquire Deepwater Wind, which built the Block Island project.

Said Thomas Brostrøm, CEO of Ørsted US Offshore Wind and president of Ørsted North America, as reported by the Virginia Mercury: “We are moving quickly to integrate the two U.S. organizations so we can deliver large-scale clean energy projects as soon as possible. We look forward to continuing Deepwater Wind’s first-class work along the Eastern Seaboard and taking the U.S. market to the next level.”

Dominion’s own wind farm project won’t be using the same design and technology as the experimental turbines. Will Ørsted, which is partnering with Dominion Energy to build the experimental turbines, use the knowledge in other projects? Will anybody be using it? What happens if Virginia doesn’t have a hurricane in the next five or ten years? Will people wait to see the results before deploying conventional wind turbines? Do the experimental turbines serve any useful purpose at all?

Conversely, are Virginia and other states proceeding recklessly with their wind farm designs without benefit of the knowledge to be gained from Virginia’s experimental turbines? Aren’t seabed conditions on the continental shelf different than the seabed conditions in the North Sea? Aren’t hurricanes more ferocious and more frequent than North Sea storms? Perhaps the experimental wind turbines are a good idea and should be built, but everyone is in such a rush to build offshore wind that they’re taking on huge risks that could put the projects and much of the electric grid in jeopardy.

None of this makes sense to me.

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16 responses to “Experimental Turbines, Risk and the Looming Offshore Wind Boom

  1. I can’t reproduce hundreds of pages of SCC testimony and hearing transcripts in 800 word BR posts, but nobody has written more… here’s the four posts I can recall…..

    https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/imprudent-unreasonable-unnecessary-approved/
    https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/update-scc-hearing-on-off-shore-wind/
    https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/when-and-why-can-the-scc-say-no/
    https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/this-certainly-demonstrates-something-dont-ask/

    For many of your questions, asked and answered. Years ago there might have been great value in this, and the feds were covering part of the cost, but the federal money is gone and only ratepayer dollars will pay for this. It is only moving forward after the General Assembly was persuaded to put its thumb on the scale and dictate the SCC’s approval.

    • “the federal money is gone and only ratepayer dollars will pay for this.”

      Perhaps then Virginia ratepayer will take all the risk, and all the reward to go elsewhere, including out of state, and for private “research advantage” to others. Just knowing that new tech fails is a huge advantage to others.

      One collateral question is, how does this risk taking work in other states, who later might gain advantage of Virginia’s ratepayer risk, but who will share on none of that risk, and get most if not all the advantage, whether experiment succeeds or fails?

  2. Call me a heavy skeptic of how this project is configured to be a cash cow for DOminion rather than done as a competitive purchase power agreement – which by the way – Dominion is doing with some solar.

    I think Ivy Main over at Power for the people has it right:

    https://powerforthepeopleva.com/

    the biggest problem here is that Dominion gets paid the same whether it fails or not – they have very little real skin in it – to hold down costs – to make it cost effective…etc…

    And this has happened in no small part because the General Assembly aided and abetted by Dominion has essentially destroyed the process by which consumers and ratepayers interests are balanced with Dominions wants.

    This is no way to do renewables. We’d actually be in even worst shape on solar if it were not for the ability of solar providers to go around Dominion and sell directly to PGM. That was an option in this case but Dominion decided it was in their best interests to take it rather than let it be competitively offered and the developers taking the risks and the rewards.

    this is no way to do electricity in the 21st century and all those folks who think the GOP in Richmond really cares about taxpayers – the answer is – not really – only when taxpayers are watching.. at other times… just gut the SCC and whistle Dixie.

  3. And that map is very telling – why risk building these in hurricane-prone southern waters if the steady winds are not there? The winds get more useful as you head north. I’m open to off-shore wind as part of the mix, but it doesn’t have to be off Virginia and it doesn’t have to be a Dominion-monopoly project. A third party could develop it and Dominion use a PPA, along with other utilities, spreading the risk. If we get it, it seems, it will done in the way which maximizes profit to Dominion and risk to us.

    And yes, Larry, I’m most disappointed in the Republicans who bought into this and intentionally gutted the SCC. I’m less surprised the Dems sold us out at the request of the environmentalists.

    • Steve – you have to be mistaken. Democrats never do anything wrong. Just ask the WaPo.

      Environmentalists are dangerous to consumers.

      • The worst of the enviros ARE dangerous just as the worst of the GOP AND DEMS are so a FAIR assessment acknowledges the others positions also.

        Most middle ground Enviros are also aligned with Consumer protections and support reasonable regulation with if you think about it is the same position middle group GOP used to support when it actually existed.

        I never expected nor wanted the extreme factions of either party nor the enviros or right/left side whackos to prevail in legislation but I support the right for all of them to espouse their positions.

        Steve says he’s less surprised the Dems sold us out at the request of the Enviros… Not sure what that means… but pretty sure the Dems and Enviros did not support gutting the SCC and and the way the Grid Transformation stuff worked out.

        What I recommend for those who REALLY want to understand the mainstream of Enviros – the ones I find reasonable – nationally are the EDF and then blogs like Power for the People, etc…

        But what the GOP did to the SCC and did to taxpayers and ratepayers on the Grid Transformation is extreme.

        And what they’re doing with the wind turbines is purposely supporting a truly bad project for wind so they can later say that they tried wind and it “failed” and we’re done trying just like they did for decoupling …. it’s a set-up …. the GOP in Va on most all other energy issues are usually not in favor of legislation that mandates anything… they’re supposedly “free-market” types …….except when it comes to what Dominion wants.

        So what would the Dems support if they were in charge? I suspect they’d get significant push-back from their own on any project configured to Dominion’s wants… and probably would require a Purchase Power approach… and what Northam is doing – commissioning an independent 3rd party study.

        What the GOP does on these issues in Virginia is downright nefarious.

    • Yes, sea bed conditions sre different, the wind is different and hurricane danger lies to the south of VA …. Virginia’s coast is prime offshore wind territory because it is part of the Mid Atlantic Bight.

      “The MID-ATALNTIC BIGHT, or the MAB, is a continuous, shallow platform of the continental shelf that runs roughly from Cape Cod, MA to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The Bight’s low water depth and its proximity to the populous East Coast makes the Bight nearly perfect for offshore wind development. Across nine states and 600 miles, it presents the best alternative vision we have.” (CCAN)

      Sited on the Bight, the East Coast offshore wind resource is huge. Bight wind farms could produce the equivalent of 70% of America’s current electricity generation. The Bight’s offshore wind energy potential exceeds the regions current demand of 73 GW of electricity by 400+%. AND electricity produced offshore from would reduce by 68% the region’s CO2 emissions, a figure that can stabilize our atmosphere and maintain energy and financial security. (Stanford University and the University of Delaware Report)

      Above and below the Capes we will need floating turbines. The Bight’s shallow water allows us to secure the turbines to the ocean floor 10-39 miles at sea. Oil companies know how to do this and actually did the work for the Block Island wind farm.

      Re hurricanes: A recent technical study has concluded that while Winds in the federal waters of the Bight are stronger and more uniform than the winds in state waters closer to the coast, it is ”the waters off North Carolina that have high hurricane risk. … and that current turbine standards “precludes any location south of Virginia from turbine development.” So, VA waters meet the all the tests for a first class offshore wind resource..

  4. Quite likely this UVA lead research into huge offshore wind turbines with 656 foot long blades will help to explain why Va. ratepayers are footing the bill for this experiment benefiting others.

    For details see: https://engineering.virginia.edu/news/2017/10/revolutionizing-offshore-wind-energy

  5. In addition to the comment immediately above, quite likely too this UVA lead research into huge offshore wind turbines with 656 foot long blades will help to explain why Va. ratepayers are footing the bill for this experiment benefiting others, as further explained in scientific American article found at:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/world-rsquo-s-largest-wind-turbine-would-be-taller-than-the-empire-state-building/

    • Reed, there is much to dislike about the proposed experimental wind turbine proposed by Dominion but UVA is not involved in funding it. What UVA is doing is participating in a ARPA-funded (DOE based) research effort at multiple universities to explore the aerodynamics of better wind turbine blade designs. Whether that is an appropriate research activity for any university’s engineering school, or whether it is fully paid for by the cited ARPA grant, is another matter!

      • What I want to know is how much the University of Virginia used of its own funds to subsidize this research and whose money – whether it be taxpayer or student tuition payments or funds taking from accounts that otherwise be to used to fund students education – and how much of these redirected funds were use directly or directly to pay for a portion of this research, and to support the success or failure of that research and its application to profit making activities.

        And I want know who get the profits, and patent rights, realized from that research, and how much of those profits and patent rights, go back to the taxpayers or the students or their parents whose monies were used or depleted by indirection to fund that research.

        I also want to know whether the ratepayers of electric service in Virginia are paying to fund the ongoing continuing research on these experimental machines, and why their payments for trickle service are being subject to the risk of that research, and whether or not those ratepayers will receive any financial benefit that results from these experiments that they are paying for. And whether their funding of these experiments is legal at all, and/or should be made illegal in the future, if they are.

        Finally, I want to know why none of these questions are being asked or answered by the politicians in the state who should be responsible to the citizens of the state to answer these questions, and who obviously know what is going on, and will not tell their constituents, whether taxpayer, college tuition payer, or users of Virginia power electricity, what the truth is about how their money is being spent, and what risks they monies are being subject to without their knowledge or consent, in order to enrich other people, and other private interests, whether they be within UVA, or Virginia power, the shareholders of its affiliated companies. .

      • Typo corrections and addition to prior comment:

        What I want to know is how much the University of Virginia used of its own funds to subsidize this research and whose money – whether it be taxpayer or student tuition payments or funds taking from accounts that otherwise would be available be to used to fund students education – and how much of these redirected funds were use directly or directly to pay for a portion of this research, and to support the success or failure of that research and its application to profit making activities.

        And I want know who get the profits, and patent rights, realized from that research, and how much of those profits and patent rights, go back to the taxpayers or the students or their parents whose monies were used or otherwise depleted by indirection to fund that research.

        I also want to know whether the ratepayers of electric service in Virginia are paying to fund the ongoing continuing research on these experimental machines, and why their payments for electric service are being subjected to the risk of that research, and whether or not those ratepayers will receive any financial benefit that results from these experiments that they are paying for. And whether their funding of these experiments is legal at all, and/or should be made illegal in the future, if they are.

        Finally, I want to know why none of these questions are being asked or answered by the politicians in the state who should be responsible to the citizens of the state to answer these questions, and who obviously know or should know what is going on, and will not tell their constituents, whether taxpayer, college tuition payer, or users of Virginia power electricity, what the truth is about how their money is being spent, and what risks they monies are being subject to without their knowledge or consent, in order to enrich other people, and other private interests, whether they be within UVA, or Virginia power, the shareholders of its affiliated companies.

        All these questions should be asked irrespective of whether or not this new UVa. led technology research is being tested and experimented with as part of, or as a follow up to, the two-turbine Commonwealth of Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) project at a cost of $300 million borne by the Virginia electric power ratepayers. The fact that an ARPA-funded (DOE based) is part of this research effort at multiple universities to explore the aerodynamics of better wind turbine blade designs is irrelevant to whatever financial burden is being imposed on Virginians for the original research or follow up offshore experiments.

  6. Wind energy is a factor of the cube of the wind velocity. That means when wind speed increases by a factor of 2 the energy produced is 8 times greater. Steady wind speeds are greater at higher elevations. That is why towers for offshore wind generators are increasing in height. Generating more energy from a single generator also reduces the number of platforms that must be anchored below water level.

    The 6 MW units selected by Dominion for this test are now outmoded. Eight to ten megawatt wind generators are what are being proposed for the projects on the Atlantic Coast.

    When a request for bids is sent out by various states, the independent power producers that respond bid a fixed price per kWh. The risk of producing power at that price is all theirs. They must be confident about the technology they choose to withstand the conditions of the site and be able to reliably produce power economically (including O&M expenses) in order for them to profit from the enterprise. Many of Europe’s best offshore wind companies are making connections with U.S. firms to take advantage of this opportunity.

    Dominion’s proposal results in an exorbitant price for the energy and leaves the ratepayers responsible for cost overruns while the utility pockets an enormous profit. Because the latest technology will not be tested, it will have limited value for future development in Virginia. Our approach is not nearly as sophisticated as is occurring in other states. The development of offshore wind resources has been hijacked by our utilities for profit making purposes. A shared offshore transmission system has been proposed to reduce cost. Dominion’s proposal suits only their development.

    Things are moving quickly with offshore wind. Virginia has selected a non-standard approach and likely will lag behind the progress happening elsewhere.

  7. I live about 15 miles from North Anna. We also have a major transmission line on the road into our house. A major substation is about 2 miles away.

    When someone talks about the “impacts” of wind and solar I end up wondering if they also have these other energy infrastructures around where they live.

    I have no problem with ANY of it because I’m not ashamed to say that I very much want and need electricity – having been without it at times including more than a week a few years back.

    So I’m just not understanding the differing views towards wind/solar verses coal/gas/nukes… all of them have impacts… and wind/solar are largely absent nuclear waste and coal/gas air pollution.

    The up-front costs for a properly-structured wind turbine farm sounds similar to the up-front cost issues for Nukes and new gas plants so the biggest issue here is why in the world the General Assembly purposely intervened and forced the opposite of a competitive process to go forward with offshore wind.

    Why didn’t the GOP majority in the Va GA , for instance, stipulate that new gas plants are mandated in the “public interest” or that NA3 is mandated in the public interest or heck the pipeline rather than leave those issues to Dominion and their competitors?

    At any rate – the size and scale aspect seems to be totally arbitrary at times but NIMBYs (which includes BOTH left and right folks) are never known for logical views but mostly self-interest wants. They’re fine with the electricity as long as they don’t have to see it….

  8. Wind and solar costs are almost all due to capital costs because there is no fuel-cost component. Both of these types of generation are now well below the energy costs of gas-fired plants and refurbished nuclear units.

    If done correctly, both of these technologies will have little other associated impacts. Solar is best developed within the distribution system. No greenfield land use is required nor are new transmission lines. Energy costs are fixed for 35+ years. The same applies to offshore wind. Virginia should ask for bids in the 5-6 cents /kWh range which is far below nearly 8 cents /kWh for a new gas-fired plant without the GHG and viewshed issues. Who knows what refurbished nuclear units will cost. Probably somewhere well into the double digits /kWh.

    A large offshore wind farm will require an onshore transmission connection that will have the typical impacts.

    Please keep the GA from mandating that energy projects are “in the public interest”. There is no objective review that supports these pronouncements similar to the evidentiary process that occurs at the SCC, where such decisions belong. The GA relies on special interests to tell them what to do which usually results in bad energy policies.

  9. Jane T. has it right: “Yes, sea bed conditions sre different, the wind is different and hurricane danger lies to the south of VA …. Virginia’s coast is prime offshore wind territory because it is part of the Mid Atlantic Bight. . . . Above and below the Capes we will need floating turbines. The Bight’s shallow water allows us to secure the turbines to the ocean floor 10-39 miles at sea.”

    These uniquely Virginia conditions are not being adequately tested by a prototype of the sort of larger platform-based turbines that actually are the most efficient units suited for Virginia waters and therefore will surely be the ones built here en masse if anything is. Instead, the test turbine is an under-sized boondoggle, which at best will explore supporting regulatory aspects such as sub-sea cable permitting and installation, NIMBY resistance, and the logistical requirements of boat-based maintenance, factors which could have been better studied at far lower cost by looking at the experience of others.

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