Archive for November, 2010

Regional Initiative to Speed Offshore Wind Energy Development

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Cape Wind’s approval off the coast of Massachusetts is certainly due its small celebratory moment in the world of offshore energy advocacy and the general push for a transition to renewable electricity. But concerns have been raised about the feasibility of a 7-10 year approval process timeline for future sites.

Earlier this year, a consortium was formed between Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and 10 states aimed at “promoting the efficient, orderly, and responsible development of wind resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.” A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Secretary Salazar and the governors of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. More information about this can be found here. As of June, a task force has yet to be formally established in Maine, although six states have formulated them, and three others are in the process. The goal of these task forces are to look at development of offshore wind from a regional standpoint.

A press release by the U.S. Department of the Interior on November 23, 2010 discussed “Smart from the Start” initiative, aimed at expediting the siting, leasing and construction of new wind projects by simplifying the regulatory process. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE proposed revisions to current regulations to simplify and speed up the leasing process.


Ways of Expediting the Wind Development Leasing Process:


1)Removing a second, redundant step in the non-competitive leasing process which could save 6-12 months in the planning stages.


2)Offering leases as early as end of 2011/early 2012.

Identifying “Wind Energy Areas” (WEA) that appear most suitable for wind energy development and relatively fewer potential environmental and use conflicts than other offshore sites. The idea behind this is to have environmental reviews done for better government and industry planning and assessment earlier than would be done if waiting for interested developers to take the initiative. Although site specific environmental review will need to be done, WEAs with no significant impacts would be offered leases by the end of 2011/early 2012. Six of the eleven state task forces established are identifying such WEA’s within the next 60 days. Other Atlantic coast states, including Maine, will identify WEAs in 2011.


3) Process applications aggressively to build offshore transmission lines.

WEAs should assist the siting and feasibility renews associated with potential offshore transmission lines.


Interestingly, this “smart from the start” idea is not brand new. Large-scale solar projects were launched on public lands in the West by conducting similar early environmental reviews and coordinating state and federal permitting processes. This process is a step in the right direction in speeding up the leasing process hurdle in wind energy development.


The articles referenced/for more information:

Smart from the Start Offshore Wind Initiative

“Smart from the Start” FAQ

Fact Sheet: Offshore Renewable Energy Regulation Revisions



Cell Phones, iPods and…Wind Turbines?

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

With the impressive surge in the production and consumption of hand-held technological devices in the last decade, we are vaguely familiar with the raw materials and rare metals used in manufacturing them. From iPods, to cell phones, to fluorescent light bulbs, rare metals are found in most of our technological devices.

Another product containing rare metals? Wind turbines.

Scott Malone wrote an article in Reuters on November 18, 2010 titled Analysis: Rare-earth surge is wake-up call for industrials where he cited a commercial wind turbine containing about a ton of rare earth.

Currently, China produces about 97% of the world supply of rare earth minerals, harnessing that title when low prices discouraged Western companies from developing mining projects on their own land. However, because of China’s increasing development, Chinese industries are beginning to manufacture more goods made from such elements rather than exporting the raw materials. Evidence for this can be found when Beijing slashed their rare earth exports by 40% this summer, citing China’s own economic development as first priority.

While the article did not mention the risk of reaching “peak metals” any time in the foreseeable future, losing a vendor of raw materials and gaining one of higher-valued manufactured products most certainly will raise the costs of production in all items, including wind turbines.

At a time where we have yet to set up a commonplace recycling system for rare-earth intense products such as cell phones, and iPods, we are only continuing to develop products more reliant on these natural minerals. In addition, those that have supplied the raw materials for past manufacturing, are moving on to manufacturing themselves. Although it is not often discussed, a serious potential hurdle for the development of wind energy as a dominant sector in our energy portfolio is evident when nearly 1 ton of rare-earth is required for turbine production.

On the bright side, General Electric Co. is working on a project partly funded by the DOE aimed at reducing the amount of rare earths in its electricity-generating wind turbines by up to 80%. In other words, saving 1,600 pounds of scarce metals from each turbine that can be used for other demanding technologies, while keeping costs at a more predictable estimate.

Categories: Developments