By Diane Tulipani
For thousands of years man has used wind power to propel ships, pump water, and grind grain. Not until the late 19th century was wind power used to generate electricity. Today, with electricity demand in the U.S. continuing to increase and one way we might lessen our reliance on non-renewable resources is to start using renewables, such as wind energy.
One investment/development group, Fishermen’s Energy of New Jersey, has taken a leading role in developing an off-shore wind farm. This initial project proposed for New Jersey state-waters would be located within about 692 acres approximately three miles off the coast. Five to six megawatt (MW) turbines would produce up to 25 MW of electricity. When connected to the transmission grid, the power would be sold to New Jersey electric customers. Located near Atlantic City, it would be the first off-shore wind farm along a U.S. coastline. In contrast, off-shore wind farms have been successfully supplying many European countries with electricity for nearly two decades.
Offshore energy projects are typically met with skepticism and resistance by most fishing communities due to the potential impact on their ability to fish coastal waters, as well as other conflicts due to multiple uses of proposed areas. Established in 2007 and located in Atlantic City, Fishermen’s Energy, is a partnership of commercial fishing companies that participate in various Atlantic fisheries and energy industry experts. They have taken a progressive approach in seeing the economic potential offshore energy development offers to marine operators and coastal communities.
By leveraging their fleet’s expertise and equipment, commercial mariners can participate in project planning, help conduct on-site surveys of benthic geomorphology, protected marine animals and migrating bird species, and assist with future turbine construction support and maintenance. Local ports and shipyards would benefit from increased business through operational support of the offshore wind farm, which in turn would benefit the coastal community with an economic boost generating new jobs, and extending to all New Jersey residents by providing a clean, alternative power source.
Although the U.S. is ranked first in the world in total wind power generation of electricity, it currently has no off-shore wind complexes. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, only 2.9% of all the electricity generated in the U.S. came from on-land wind power in 2011 (119 billion kWh). Considering that nearly 67% of electricity in the U.S. in 2011 was generated using coal, natural gas and petroleum, 2.9% is a small fraction of overall electricity generation. In comparison, Denmark generated about 19% of its electricity from both offshore and on-land wind power complexes.
So why build a wind farm off-shore? Mainly the amount and speed of wind generated over water is greater than over land as natural features, like mountains and trees, reduce wind speed. Over water, the wind has nothing to block or deflect it. Wind field zones along both the west and east coast of the U.S. and the Great Lakes have high potential as sites for off-shore wind farms with the most favorable sites ranked “excellent” to “superb.”
Overcoming major obstacles to development relating to the multiple uses of coastal waters will be vital if any progress is to be made. Concerns relating to environmental effects, socioeconomic impacts, military use, maritime operations, commercial and recreational fishing, and weather tracking-prediction needs have to be address with respect to wind farm locations. Fishermen’s Energy’s focus on the economic benefits of this new industry to offset any perceived losses is one way to garner support from key stakeholder groups for offshore wind projects.
Wind energy is considered a relatively clean, renewable energy source that produces no carbon emissions. Besides reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using wind energy can reduce our reliance on outside sources for fossil fuels. As long as there is solar energy to heat the earth, winds will blow.
Diane Tulipani is graduate student at Virginia Institute of Marine Science. She contributed this essay as part of her course work toward obtaining a Marine Policy Sub-Concentration.