Offshore Moratorium

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has place a moratorium on the development of wind turbine offshore.  There had been a number of proposals for offshore development, and the Ministry had signed some leases with prospective developers.

The reasons for the moratorium were quite vague.  Something about needing more study.  What US President’s view of climate change does that sound like?

Offshore wind is still very new, and very small.  The world has about 75,000 Megawatts of wind turbines installed on land, and about 1000 Megawatts offshore.  The largest of the offshore developments are in Denmark, followed by the UK.

Offshore wind offers some significant advantages over onshore wind.  The winds are stronger, less gusty, and more consistent offshore, so each turbine produces more power.  In addition, logistics of moving large components is easier offshore than it is on crowded roads, as ships can be used to transport towers and blades.  This means they can build turbines larger than you can on land.  The largest land based turbine is about 3 Megawatts, with 45 m blades, whereas offshore wind turbines as big as 5 Megawatts, with 60 m blades are being designed.  Sound is less of an issue offshore, as there are no nearby residences.  Some believe that offshore wind will be more easily accepted by people, as the turbines are a great distance away from where people are.  I am not sure this will always be the case, especially on the Great Lakes, where turbines would almost always be visible from land.
The downside of offshore wind is cost.  The foundations are much more costly, and must be designed to deal both with wind forces and wave forces.  In the Great Lakes, dealing with ice forces could be tricky.  No doubt the challenges could be surmounted – after all, we build bridge pileons in rivers that deal with ice – but there will be a cost.  In Europe, countries pay 20-30% more for power from offshore wind than onshore.

The Ministry of Natural Resources has been a huge challenge for the renewable energy business, especially waterpower.  They have been known to go years without approving anything, or having a policy that either allows or doesn’t allow developments.  They do have a policy for renting land for wind development, and for developers who are good at dealing with costly bureacratic processes, it works.  The same cannot be said for waterpower over most of the past decade.

While a moratorium is not a good thing, it may not hurt if it has a defined timeframe, and allows the Ministry to formulate clear enabling policy.  The developers with offshore proposals have a cost disadvantage over onshore developers today, and are unlikely to win in a bidding system.  As more offshore wind is developed in Europe, the industry will get better at it, and costs will come down.  At that time, offshore wind may make sense for Ontario.

Lets wish the Ministry well in their review of policy.  And lets hope they come out with a proposal that enables offshore wind to develop when the market is ready for it.

Leave a Reply