The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Massachusetts will be closed due to rising costs, and because technology is struggling to remain economically sustainable in the United States. But soon the electricity generated by the aging of the nuclear power plant will be replaced by another carbon-free source: a fleet of 84 offshore wind turbines that rise almost 650 feet above the surface of the ocean. The developers of the Vineyard Wind project say that their turbines will generate 800 megawatts of electricity once they start operating in 2022. This is equivalent to the production of a large coal-fired power plant and more than the 640 megawatts that Pilgrim produces.
“The wind has come to the open sea,” says Erich Stephens, head of development for Vineyard Wind, with the support of companies in the wind energy market in Denmark and Spain. The manager explains that the costs have gone down enough to force the project developers to take it seriously: “Not only is wind energy cheaper, it is also possible to place the turbines in deeper water and make it less expensive than before”.
Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Public Services gave Vineyard Wind a 20-year contract to provide electricity for 8.9 cents per kilowatt hour. This represents approximately one third of the cost of other renewable sources (such as Canadian hydropower), and it is estimated that $ 1.3 billions of dollars in energy costs will be saved over the duration of the operation.
Wind power is not new in the United States, with 56,000 turbines in 41 states, Guam and Puerto Rico, producing a total of 96,433 MW throughout the country. But the wind farms located on the coast, where the strong and constant wind blows, not interrupted by buildings or mountains, have yet to start producing energy.
However, in the last years the turbines have become larger and the towers higher, they are capable of generating three times more energy than five years ago. Even the technology needed to install them far from the coast has improved, making them more attractive for near cities.
When talking about wind turbines, the bigger the better, says David Hattery, Practice Coordinator for K & L Gates Power, a Seattle-based law firm that represents wind energy producers and developers. Larger turbines and wings work better under the forces generated by strong ocean winds. “Turbulence consumes bearings and gear boxes,” Hattery said. “What you don’t want on the high seas is a turbine that breaks down, the repair is very expensive.”
In the race to grow, Vineyard Wind plans to use a 9.5 MW turbine with a 174 meter rotor, a giant by the standards of most wind farms. But last year, GE introduced an even bigger turbine, the Haliade-X of 12 MW. Once completed in 2021, each turbine will have a size of 220 meters (from end to end) and can generate enough electricity to light 16,000 European homes. GE is building these giants for farms in Europe, where wind power now generates 14% of the continent’s electricity (compared to 6.5% in the United States).