(Article by WVTF Public Radio) When Dominion Virginia Power won the right to lease land offshore for a wind farm, proponents of green energy cheered.
But when Dominion put that job out for bids, just one firm submitted a qualified offer, and it was well over what the utility wanted to spend. Executives put the project on hold, but the company insists it’s not giving up on offshore wind.
Dominion, like other American utilities, has never built an offshore wind farm. The company figured on spending about $230 million to install a couple of turbines and put the project out for bids. The only qualified offer was for $375-$400 million.
Surprised and dismayed, the company invited about 50 suppliers, academics, environmentalists and experts from other states -- to weigh-in on why the costs were so high.
Gary Oakley, with the global engineering and construction firm KBR, said the problem starts with the massive turbines you plan to install. It takes a crane nearly 400 feet tall to do the job, and a specialized boat.
“There are only a few vessels in the world that have that height of crane, and you need a very steady platform, so you can’t use any old vessel. You have to use what we describe as a jack up vessel. A jack up vessel sits its legs onto the sea bed, so it’s a steady, stable platform.”
And since all those boats are in Europe, you have to budget for travel time and bad weather.
“That takes 12-14 days to sail across the Atlantic, and if there’s any severe storms, they have to go into a safe haven, so that’s a risk.”
Rudy Hall, with Keystone Engineering, adds that the companies qualified to do this job are also in Europe, and they’re plenty busy building wind farms of their own.
“They all have work. They’re bidding on multiple projects. It’s difficult for them to commit to a project over here.”
Other aspects of construction and maintenance could be done by America’s offshore industry, but Hall says most of those companies and their equipment are a thousand miles away by sea.
“The problem that we have in this country is that our supply chain is not located close to the best wind sites. In the United States we’ve developed an offshore industry, but it’s been in the Gulf of Mexico.”
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