As the globe continues to transition into a new era of energy and explores long-term energy solutions, offshore wind energy has garnered much attention of late. With the Biden Administration pushing for strategic offshore wind farm development and renewable energy deployment, the race to invest in offshore wind properties and infrastructure has boomed.
On the surface, investing in offshore wind seems like a good idea. However, some unforeseen consequences and complications could be associated with a rapid transition to renewable energy sources. Like any major transition, the story has two sides, and the other side of the coin may be less pretty.
A Brief Overview of Offshore Wind Energy
Offshore wind farms involve the creation of massive wind turbines designed to harness wind energy and convert it to electricity. Because wind off the coast and in open water is a vastly untapped resource, harnessing offshore wind power has the potential to be a massive energy supplier for future generations.
The idea is relatively simple: take advantage of areas that are uninhabited by humans to minimize the impact on valuable real estate—utilizing the strong force of ocean winds to capture energy and create electricity to be integrated with the power grid.
Offshore wind energy is considered a renewable resource and is part of a rapidly growing sector in the green energy transition. However, moving too quickly to build these massive structures may have some potential pitfalls.
The Other Side of the Coin
As appealing as offshore wind may sound on a surface level, there are multiple angles to consider before diving headfirst into a total transition. Naturally, investing in renewable energy resources is a significant step toward sustainable energy production.
However, like any new energy resource, examining all sides and potential pitfalls of investing in offshore wind farms is essential.
One of the first considerations is the sheer size of constructing offshore wind farms. On average, most offshore windmill designs utilize rotors with a diameter of 148 meters and stand 90 meters tall. However, in the near future, this size is expected to increase to approximately 230 meters to generate more electricity. Considering most wind farms will have dozens if not hundreds of windmills, the area necessary to support such mega-farms is staggering.
With every massive construction project comes a monumental effort and industrial complexity. To begin building a building farm, the first step is to drill into the ocean floor using enormous equipment. Once the site is prepared, the base of the windmill is transported from the mainland to the installation site. When considering the sheer size of these offshore windmills, transportation and installation are no small feat. In fact, the cost associated with building a single offshore windmill is staggering.
The Math Doesn’t Add Up
The initial construction cost of an offshore wind farm can cost billions of dollars. According to the Institute for Energy Research (IER), offshore wind turbines cost nearly four times more than natural gas production. Furthermore, the estimated cost of operating an offshore wind turbine translates to over $6,000 per kilowatt of energy it produces.
According to an analysis by IER comparing the Cape Offshore Wind Farm to a natural gas facility in the same region, natural gas supplied 320 trillion BTUs of energy annually. In contrast, the Cape Offshore Wind Farm provided a little more than 1% of that figure with a meager 5.4 trillion BTUs of energy annually. With this staggering difference in energy output in mind, the viability of focusing primarily on offshore wind farms is undoubtedly in question.
Location, Location, Location
Naturally, the location of these wind farms can make a significant difference in both energy output and viability. States with fewer traditional energy resources, like New England, could benefit greatly from focusing on renewable resources such as offshore wind farms. Installing offshore wind farms to supply these states with more prominent renewable energy resources could help the energy market and deliver their electricity needs.
On the other hand, states at the forefront of energy production, like Texas, with its leading oil and nuclear energy supply, could be jeopardizing their energy market by pitting resources against each other. By forcing the existence of offshore wind farms in Texas, the titans of energy production go head to head in a bid for support and resources.
When comparing the cost and potential ROI on oil and natural gas versus offshore wind farms, offshore wind turbines cannot compete monetarily. Therefore, pushing for their immediate existence is not monetarily viable. However, over time, it could prove to be feasible in a slow transition.
The Biden Administration Pushes Offshore Wind
The White House has made its intentions to ramp up offshore wind construction abundantly clear. On March 23rd, the White House announced its continuation of plans to advance offshore wind construction to keep in step with Biden’s promise to construct 30 gigawatts of offshore wind. The White House claims this endeavor will supply 10 million American homes by 2030 with clean energy.
According to White House analytics, the industry has tripled because of the President’s plan in 2021 to increase offshore wind farms. The President’s investment in renewable energy continues to grow more ambition to produce 110 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2050.
Unforeseen Environmental Impacts of Offshore Wind Energy Farms
Unfortunately, little research has been done into the potential environmental impacts of ramping offshore wind farm construction. While there is undoubtedly a distinct change in the environment due to the nature of construction, several factors could be affected by constructing the massive windmills off American coastlines.
The sound pollution from drilling and operation could be detrimental to the delicate oceanic ecosystem. Most marine wind farms are 15 to 23 miles offshore, so their construction could damage coastal reefs and invalu- able aquatic biomes. Furthermore, connecting transmission lines from wind farms to the mainland involves disrupting a larger surface area than solely the windmill’s location, potentially affecting a larger environmental area.
Above the surface, the massive windmills can obscure aviary wildlife such as coastal birds, migrating fouls, and other flying animals. The simple truth is the research needs to be conducted sufficiently to say with certainty how creating a massive infrastructure of offshore windmills will impact the delicate ocean environment.
Another angle to consider is the potential economic pitfalls of filling our coastlines with offshore windmills.
Tourism & Property Values
Because of their size and structure, many offshore wind facilities can be seen from the coastlines. This could be considered unsightly and decrease property values, hinder tourism, and prevent economic growth in popular coastal areas. For smaller oceanside communities, a downturn in tourism could be disastrous and devastating for their economy.
Who’s Going to Pay for All This?
Let’s be honest; you already know the answer. The American people will pay for increased offshore wind facilities for generations. As the national debt crisis continues to increase with little signs of stopping, spend- ing billions upon billions on a less-than-viable return on investment is questionable, at the least. The cost for construction, upkeep, and potential economic impacts will eventually come from the American taxpayer’s pockets.
By placing offshore wind facilities around every coastline, shipping channels and navigational vessels could be hindered from navigating coastal ways. Creating a giant infrastructure of offshore windmills could lead to congested waterways and difficult ocean navigation.
Maintenance and Repair Inaccessibility
Due to the nature of offshore wind facilities, maintenance and repair can be challenging. Not only do workers face environmental difficulties, but structural and accessibility issues as well. This means that the upkeep required for offshore wind facilities can be extremely expensive and difficult to maintain.
Infrastructure and Grid Connection Cost
When compared to nuclear and oil energy transmission fees, the cost of offshore wind grid connection is astronomical. In fact, offshore wind energy transmission fees are nearly twice as expensive as traditional energy resources. Also, offshore wind infrastructure is much more costly than conventional energy sources.
Part of a Whole, Not the Whole Itself
As with any transition to a new energy source, it’s essential to consider all angles and recognize that no one resource is the end-all, be-all solution. The world of energy is rapidly changing, but that doesn’t mean we should put all our eggs in one basket.
With offshore wind energy production, Americans must recognize that it is but one of many Avenues to invest in for the clean energy shift. That’s why focusing on one energy resource is unwise for the future. Instead, American energy investors should broaden the scope of renewable energy to help balance the transition with sustainable and reasonable progress.
Too Much Change Too Quickly
Of course, the energy sector must evolve as resources continue to change and develop. However, it’s important to understand that change takes time, especially in supplying American homes with power and energy. Div- ing headfirst into any one form of renewable energy could be a deficit to other resources that still have much to offer.
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About the author: Jess Henley began his career in client relations for a large manufacturer in Huntsville, Alabama. With several years of leadership under his belt, Jess made the leap to brand communications with Bizwrite, LLC. As a senior copywriter, Jess crafts compelling marketing and PR content with a particular emphasis on global energy markets and professional services.