Cape Wind Project Wins Construction Approval
IRA FLATOW, host:
This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow.
Got any plans to head out to the beach this summer? How about Cape Cod? In a couple of years, you could see, you could be seeing dozens of wind turbines in Nantucket Sound turning out green power for the Cape and islands.
The Cape Wind Farm just got the final green light from the U.S. government for construction to begin on the country's first offshore wind farm, 130 turbines that will stretch out, oh, up about 40 stories into the sky.
My next guest says that from the beach, they won't look any bigger than a half-inch on the horizon. Joining me now to talk about the project is the CEO of Cape Wind Associates, Jim Gordon. He's here with us in our studios in New York. And if you'd like to ask questions, please join us. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. You can also tweet us, @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I.
Welcome back, Jim.
Mr. JIM GORDON (Chief Executive Officer, Cape Wind Associates): Hi, Ira, how are you?
FLATOW: Only 10 years, huh?
Mr. GORDON: Only 10 years. The exciting thing is that a new, inexhaustible, clean resource is about to be harnessed for greater energy independence, new green jobs, more stable electric costs and hopefully catching up with the Europeans and Asians, who are putting offshore wind farms off their coasts.
FLATOW: So there are no more obstacles in your way?
Mr. GORDON: Well, we are completely permitted now. We do have some legal challenges that the opponents have put forth. But, you know, Ira, we've been at this for 10 years, and we have met our opponents in courts or in regulatory arenas for that time, and our record has been 15 and 0.
So we do think that the legal challenges are a nuisance and designed to delay and obstruct the process. But we believe that this project will get into construction by the end of the year, and we will be generating clean electricity for the Cape and islands and hopefully inspiring other Atlantic coastal states to look at tapping their offshore wind resources, also.
FLATOW: Can you make it cheap enough to be competitive?
Mr. GORDON: Well, let's put it this way, Ira: Offshore wind is a bargain when you consider the external costs of burning fossil fuels and generating electricity with nuclear power.
As you know, mining and extracting coal and oil and natural gas, they take a toll on the environment, our health and military expenditures in order to protect Persian Gulf supply lines.
So when you look at the costs that we avoid by using offshore wind and other renewable energy resources, definitely it's competitive.
FLATOW: And in the cost per cents per kilowatt hour to the consumer, is that price competitive enough?
Mr. GORDON: Right now, the cost of offshore wind, if you look just at the -comparing it with the kilowatt price on your electric bill, is higher. But the point is we already see oil prices and natural gas prices and electricity prices rising.
The advantage of using offshore wind is you have a more stable electric costs that are not subject to the volatility of fossil fuel prices.
FLATOW: And so give us a timeline when we might see the first of these wind turbines actually be erected.
Mr. GORDON: Be erected? We're hopeful that in 2014, 2013, 2014, we'll start seeing these majestic offshore wind turbines creating a better energy future for the people on the Cape and islands.
FLATOW: And just to go over the numbers again, I'm talking 130?
Mr. GORDON: 130 wind turbines that will produce, on average, over 75 percent of the Cape and islands electricity with zero pollutant emissions and greenhouse gas emissions, zero water consumption and zero waste discharge.
FLATOW: There is news about trying to build an underwater electrical backbone up the East Coast I'm sure you're familiar with.
Mr. GORDON: That's correct.
FLATOW: Would that stretch up into Nantucket with your wind turbines?
Mr. GORDON: Right now, the plans for that undersea transmission line goes from Virginia to New Jersey. So Cape Wind would be building its own transmission line that would hook in to the existing grid and provide this clean, renewable resource to the people in Massachusetts.
FLATOW: And you can sell everything that you can make, all the electricity.
Mr. GORDON: Right now, we have half our power under contract. National Grid stepped up, very progressive utility. As a united - headquartered in the United Kingdom, they've had a front-row seat to the emerging offshore wind industry in Northern Europe.
FLATOW: Yeah, they have a lot of wind farms.
Mr. GORDON: They have a lot of wind farms, and now the United Kingdom has become the leader in building offshore wind farms. So they stepped up. They bought half the power, and we're very confident that we're going to sell the balance of the electricity for this project.
FLATOW: And I know other states along the coast are interested and watching how yours progresses.
Mr. GORDON: Well, you know, the Cape Wind became a high-profile project, and we'd like to think that we've inspired other coastal states to look at their offshore wind resources as evidenced by, you know, the proposals that are coming up and down the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast.
FLATOW: Why is offshore more attractive than just being on the coastline?
Mr. GORDON: The reason that offshore wind is more attractive than even land-based wind farms is that we produce electricity coincident with the peak demand. So when folks really need the electricity, in the hottest summer days, in the coldest winter nights, the offshore wind farms will be producing electricity.
And this is backed up by over seven years of data that we've collected through our offshore wind data tower. And we've correlated it to the 10 historic peak electric days in the New England region.
So, you know, Ira, 28 coastal states consume over 73 percent of this nation's electricity because that's where the population centers are and the big electric demand growth is.
So by tapping an offshore wind resource right next to the load, you've really got distributed generation that's going to create a more secure, safer and cleaner energy future.
FLATOW: You know, people are concerned about bird deaths, bat deaths. Yet environmentalists have been backing your project down the line, haven't they?
Mr. GORDON: The major national and regional and local environmental organizations have backed this project, including Mass Audubon Society that did parallel research to the research that was done by the federal government under this exhaustive and comprehensive permitting process.
And, you know, Ira, the greatest threat to birds and marine life is climate change. And Cape Wind is designed to help mitigate climate change by offsetting almost a million tons of greenhouse gases annually.
FLATOW: What was the major engineering challenge that you faced in this project?
Mr. GORDON: The major - you know, the major challenge was definitely the permitting of the project because, you know, this is the first offshore wind project, and, in effect, Cape Wind has helped evolve the regulatory framework for offshore wind in America.
The good thing about Cape Wind is that the technical siting criteria, it's in shallow water, it has a low wave regime. So that's similar to the earliest offshore wind farms that have been developed and built in Europe.
FLATOW: So you had a track record of how to build it in those places...
Mr. GORDON: That's right.
FLATOW: ...that date back to Europe, and you can use their specs and things like that.
Mr. GORDON: Exactly, and we've cross-pollinated a lot of information from Europe. We've traveled to Europe and seen a lot of offshore wind farms and talked with policymakers over there, engineers.
And, you know, it will be a challenging project, but we're convinced that when it's up and running, it's going to be reliable, and it's going to be further embraced by the community.
FLATOW: The technology, who's supplying your turbines and those kinds of things?
Mr. GORDON: The turbines are going to be supplied by Siemens Corporation, which is one of the largest electrical powerhouses in the world. The turbines will be made in Denmark. Although we have many turbine, wind turbine manufacturers in the United States building land-based wind turbines, as the offshore wind industry progresses in the United States and there are more projects, there will be a supply chain that will develop in the United States to build large, offshore wind turbines just as they're doing in Denmark and Germany and in the United Kingdom.
FLATOW: And so they ship the parts over? And are there jobs here to assemble them? Do you create jobs out of this project?
Mr. GORDON: There are jobs. In fact, Governor Duval Patrick and his administration are really focusing on making clean energy the next big industry in this region, and they're actually going to be building a offshore wind terminal in New Bedford, which the project will be deployed out of.
There's another company that's looking at building a monopile manufacturing facility, which are the foundations of wind turbines, to supply Cape Wind, as well as other projects that are now sprouting up along the Atlantic Coast.
So Cape Wind by itself will produce about 600 to 1,000 jobs during the construction phase and 150 permanent jobs during the operations phase. But more importantly, Ira, you know, first-mover advantage, we're hoping, and we're seeing already that Siemens has established their North American headquarters here.
Global Marine, a major European cable-laying company, has opened up a headquarters in Boston. So the center of gravity seems to be coming to locate in this region to be poised to be able to service and provide equipment for this emerging offshore wind industry.
FLATOW: Well, Jim Gordon, we wish you luck.
Mr. GORDON: Thank you.
FLATOW: And thank you for taking time to be with us. Jim Gordon, he is CEO of Cape Wind Associates, talking about upcoming 100 and - well, it's going to be 140, is it?
Mr. GORDON: 130.
FLATOW: 130 wind turbines off of Nantucket. Thanks for joining us today.
Mr. GORDON: Thank you, Ira.
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