When I hear or read the phrase wind power, I immedi- ately imagine tall-towered machines with tri-blade
impellers tracing out huge arcing sweeps against partly
cloudy skies. Your imagery may vary.
Globally, wind generation capacity climbed to 318 GW
in 2013 and has increased, year-over-year, an average of
37 MW since 2008. The People’s Republic of China leads
the world in terms of cumulative installed wind-generation capacity
with 91.4 GW or almost 29 percent of the global total.
Although the United States ranks second in cumulative installed
capacity, it’s sixth in new capacity installed during calendar 2013. Several turbine manufacturers I’ve spoken with attribute the U.S.’s lagging
capacity build out, not to a lack of investment interest in wind power
or to a shortage opportunities for wind-power technologies, but to a
hostile permitting environment.
The Cape Wind project in Massachusetts is the first offshore wind
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farm cited in the United States. It will operate 130
Siemens 3.6-MW turbines installed in a grid cover-
ing about 24 square miles. The project kicked off on
November 15, 2001 with the submission of permit
applications to 17 state and federal agencies. Three
years later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a
favorable draft Environmental Impact Statement — a
short note of only 4,000 pages.
In April 2006, members of the Alaskan (yes, I did
say Alaskan) congressional delegation attempted to
stop Cape Wind with an amendment to a Coast Guard
bill. (For reference, Juneau is 2,948 miles from Martha’s Vineyard.) The amendment was stripped from
the final legislation and I’ve yet to find anyone who
can explain how a wind farm in Massachusetts affects
anyone in Alaska.
Since then, Cape Wind has completed the permitting process, secured both financing and purchasing
agreements with electric power distributors, and
survived several legal challenges to the permitting
process. A federal court decided the last of the legal
challenges in the project’s favor just this past March.
All told: 12 ½ years just to get permission to start
Thankfully, wind generation technologies scale…
in both directions.
Up the coast, a quite modest wind generation facility started producing with a single 1.5-MW turbine
in August of 2011. A second 2-MW machine came
online in December 2012. The combined output of the
Ipswich Wind project supplies about 7 percent of the
town’s electricity needs and serves to buffer ratepayers from price volatility.
Output data from the Ipswich Wind facility also
reveals an interesting attribute of wind patterns, at
least those enjoyed by the New England coast: Winter
months are much windier than are summer months.
This pattern suggests hybrid wind/solar generating
facilities in which the seasonal advantages of one energy source offset the seasonal deficits of the other. (For
wind patterns in your area, visit the nearly-real-time
wind map at http://bit.ly/1q6Tm9O. Click to zoom in
on regions of interest.)
Horizontal-shaft wind generators nearly always suffer multi-year site-selection and permitting processes.