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New England Interview: Greg Watson, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative

New England Interview: Greg Watson, Massachusetts Technology Collaborative

Date: 2/1/2004

Location: MA

Beyond Cape Wind — Looking at the Potential for Deep-Water Off-Shore Wind

When people in New England hear of off-shore wind, the headline-grabbing Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound comes to mind. But beyond the prospects or merits of any individual development project lies the fact that for the resource-poor New England states, perhaps the greatest potential domestic energy source for the long run may be found in the winds blowing off our shores. There is a vast technical potential for electricity to be generated in the deep waters off the coast of New England, within the country's 200-mile territorial waters. Just tapping a small proportion of this potential could contribute significantly to the region's supply portfolio. But if wind is ever to play its share as a component alongside natural gas, coal, nuclear, oil, and hydroelectric plants that power New England today, many things need to happen. Is this a possible future? We asked Greg Watson, who chairs the Offshore Wind Energy Collaborative (OWEC), which was recently formed to explore the possibilities and barriers.

Q. Why was the Offshore Wind Energy Collaborative (OWEC) formed?

A. The main drivers behind the creation of OWEC are: the demand for clean sources of energy, the lack of windy lands available for large-scale development in many coastal states, current electric transmission system limits for moving power from new sources to coastal urban centers, and the successful exploitation of offshore wind resources in other countries.

Q. Who's involved and why?

A. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), General Electric (GE), and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) established OWEC. MTC administers the state's Renewable Energy Trust, which seeks to maximize environmental and economic benefits for the Commonwealth's citizens by fostering the emergence of sustainable markets for electricity generated from renewable sources. GE has developed its 3.6-MW wind turbines especially for the growing offshore market. DOE is exploring innovative applications like offshore wind deep-water development to enable the wind industry to reach its full potential.

Q. What are OWEC's ultimate goals?

A. The mission of OWEC is to identify and address technical, environmental, and regulatory issues necessary to enable offshore wind energy as a commercially, politically, socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable energy resource. The goal is to overcome the barriers to generating and delivering electricity from U.S. offshore wind farms far from shore in deep waters (where the highest quality wind resources exist) at a competitive cost by the beginning of the next decade.

Q. Why now?

A. The timing is dictated by both need and opportunity. ISO New England has warned that the region's current supply is forecast to meet extreme peak demand for power only through 2006. They have concluded that new generation resources with consideration for fuel diversity are needed.

Q. How does this relate to Cape Wind?

A. It's probably fair to say that Cape Wind has been the catalyst for U.S. offshore wind activity and for OWEC. We have all learned a great deal from the Cape Wind permitting process. We're using what we've learned to help frame the right questions and get the right people to the table to help with the formation of OWEC. However, this is not about Cape Wind, but a long-term strategic planning effort for tapping a potentially vast domestic resource.

Q. What's the process for reaching your goals?

A. The process for structuring and launching the OWEC consists of three major components:

  • Consulting with key parties to identify key issues and obstacles to a sustainable offshore wind industry
  • Developing a strategic plan that recommends the optimal pathway leading to the successful development of offshore wind farms, and
  • Designing a business plan that recommends the organizational structure, funding levels and sources, and human resources necessary to implement the strategic plan and achieve its goals.

Q. What are your measures of success?

A. Ultimate success would be the successful deployment of deep-water offshore wind systems that compete in the marketplace with fossil fuel and nuclear plants. However, a number of milestones associated with our three-phase process outlined above can be used to gauge success along the way:

  • Attracting and engaging the right mix of stakeholders in the process
  • Developing a strategic plan that is endorsed by stakeholders
  • Implementing the plan with an appropriate organizational structure

Q. What do you perceive as your biggest stumbling blocks?

A. The biggest stumbling block would be inertia. We need to acknowledge what needs to get done, learn as much as we can from early adopters and pioneers, and continue to press forward in a responsible manner. Calls for halting offshore wind development for years could effectively knock it out of the competition as a player in the energy future of the United States.

This information was last updated on August 02, 2011