Offshore wind energy worth exploring

April 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

In the interest of sharing our thoughts and experiences from the New Hampshire House of Representatives, a group of Dover representatives has come together to write this weekly column on a rotating basis. Please send comments to the writer of each column; contact information below.

New Hampshire needs additional, dependable, clean, and renewable energy. Acquiring such resources has not been without difficulty for a variety of reasons, from acquisition costs to resistance to locating wind farms on ridgelines. House Bill 1312, that I cosponsored, calls for the creation of a study committee to explore the potential of offshore wind energy.

New Hampshire does better than most of New England in the percent of renewables utilized in electric energy production. This year about 40 percent of New Hampshire’s electricity production will come from natural gas and oil. Thirty percent will come from nuclear power. Coal, our dirtiest energy source, will produce 13 percent. Only 11 percent will come from hydropower and, lost within the remaining 6 percent, is biomass (wood to you and me) and wind. This means New Hampshire is producing only a minute portion of energy from renewables.

PSNH is advocating importing power from Hydro Quebec as a solution — the Northern Pass project. There are a number of concerns with this proposal. Two big advantages of renewables are the local jobs generated during construction and jobs for the duration of production. Northern Pass is only a transmission project, so there will be no energy generation construction jobs and very few production jobs. Many debate whether Hydro Quebec should even be classified as a renewable. The vast majority of their power comes from artificially flooded land in far northern Quebec that covers an area roughly equivalent to two thirds of New Hampshire’s land mass. The consequences to the environment of these flooded areas are not well understood in respect to the release of methane and adverse impacts to local ecology. Length of transmission lines also matters. The substantial distance Hydro Quebec energy must travel from it’s source means greater power losses through resistance, greater copper consumption, and a higher risk of service interruptions.

Many people are concerned about the aesthetic impact the proposed installation of a picket line of high towers slashing the length of the state through some of our most pristine areas would have. House Bill 569, recently passed by the NH House and currently before the Senate, will help ameliorate this concern by encouraging burying of transmission lines. And before you say “wait, that is just too expensive” an analysis of the information available indicates that the increased cost to consumers would be less than one percent.

Local renewable energy not only brings local employment, it also brings a sense of security by freeing us from dependence on foreign suppliers. Now our great friends to the north hardly feel foreign, but they are a sovereign state that would surely put their own interests first during an energy crunch. Yet another point of unease regarding Northern Pass.

We do have alternatives. On our doorstep is a viable and bountiful energy resource — offshore wind. New England’s offshore wind potential is by far the greatest on the east coast. The most productive areas are far enough offshore as to have limited, if any, onshore visibility. One estimate puts the potential for New Hampshire alone at some 3,300 megawatts or three times that of the proposed Northern Pass.

Offshore wind is in it’s infancy in the United States as our western states where wind and open land abound have allowed low cost development. By contrast, Europe, where their onshore availability is limited, offshore wind power is becoming common. By 2020 Europe expects to generate some 40 gigawatts of offshore power (think 33 Seabrook Stations), and employ some 200,000 workers.

Massachusetts and Maine lead New England in tapping offshore wind power. The Capewind project south of Cape Cod, delayed by resistance from wealthy residences within sight of the turbines, is becoming a reality. The University of Maine has already developed and deployed a demonstration offshore floating turbine.

Wind power from the Gulf of Maine could benefit New Hampshire in many ways beyond simply providing a new, clean, reliable energy source. It would create jobs. These jobs would be well paying and likely numerous. Offshore turbines and platforms are huge and usually constructed and assembled in nearby facilities to ease transport. Portsmouth’s Port of New Hampshire is ideally situated to support this industry.

Could we attract a major offshore developer to base their operation here? Yes. We have the port, skilled shipyard workers, and supporting industries. We also have a superb knowledge base. A small sample of what UNH alone can offer includes the Center of Offshore Renewable Energy, the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, as well as programs in oceanography, ocean engineering, and marine biology.

House Bill 1312 passed the House on a voice vote and is now before the Senate where Senator Clark is a co-sponsor. If you believe as I do that this option is well worth exploring, now is the time to contact New Hampshire senators.

Rep. Bill Baber

Strafford District 14

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