On September 8, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it would provide $43 million over the next five years for research projects to promote the development of offshore wind energy systems. DOE will fund a total of 41 projects conducted by various energy companies, research institutions, and energy consultants. Nineteen of the projects are offshore wind technology projects; the remaining 22 projects will research market barriers to offshore wind projects such as financial risks and infrastructure requirements. Of note to environmental practitioners are three projects that will study bird, bat and marine mammal activity and interactions with offshore wind turbines. The largest individual award is a $4.5 million grant that will fund a project conducted by Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) to synthesize existing data on bird, sea turtle, and marine mammal abundance and movement in the mid-Atlantic region. The BRI project will also develop predictive and risk assessment frameworks for these species.
Several smaller grants will be provided for projects that will assess conceptual offshore wind energy systems, including a project that will assess the design of a 500 megawatt offshore Gulf Coast wind farm to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of siting offshore wind farms in hurricane-prone regions. Also of note, is DOE’s award of four separate grants for transmission planning and interconnection studies. These studies are critical to removing one of the main barriers to offshore wind – the lack of an offshore transmission infrastructure for connecting offshore wind energy to the electric grid. One of these grants will be provided for a project that will study the impacts of offshore wind on the Great Lakes region electric grid, and determine necessary interconnection requirements. Two other studies will examine the impacts of offshore wind on the Mid-Atlantic electric grid and the Duke Energy Carolinas system, and identify necessary system upgrades and transmission upgrade costs. These studies may spur projects such as Atlantic Wind Connection, a development-stage offshore electrical transmission project led by Trans-Elect that proposes to integrate up to 7,000 MW of offshore wind energy with the Atlantic regional electric grid. The full list of the offshore wind R&D projects that will be funded by DOE is available here.