Offshore wind farms face slew of challenges, could take years to build

The proposed offshore wind farm projects in Hawaii will have to overcome various regulatory hurdles, construction challenges and public scrutiny, if they come at all.

The idea for wind farms in the open water off the coast of Oahu falls right into the state’s plan of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2045. While the proposals are ambitious in nature and challenging to execute, they simply try to eliminate one of Hawaii’s geographical challenges – land scarcity.

“The offshore wind project will take several years to even begin construction,” said Wren Wescoatt, founder of 7 Generation Consulting. “There are a lot of challenges.”

Wescoatt, who has worked on several land-based utility scale wind and solar projects, is working as a consultant for one of the company’s proposing an offshore wind farm. A total of three companies have expressed interest in pursuing such projects.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a call for information and nominations to find companies interested in such a project in June last year. Norwegian company Statoil, one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, confirmed its interest.

Prior to the call for information, BOEM received three unsolicited wind energy lease requests from two potential developers. Two lease requests came from AW Hawaii Wind, LLC and one from Progression Hawaii Offshore Wind, Inc. The cost of Progression’s proposal for a wind farm 9 miles southeast of Kalaeloa in West Oahu was reported at $1.6 billion.

Each of the proposed projects is set to generate 400 megawatts, which is four times more than what is currently being generated by wind farms on Oahu, Wescoatt said.

Already operating offshore wind farms, like those in the North Sea, sit in less than 200 feet of water, Wescoatt said. Due to the oceans depth around Hawaii, it would not be possible to connect the wind turbines directly to the sea floor. The proposals therefore call for a semi-submerged floating platforms anchored to the ocean floor with turbines on top of them.

“It’s going to be super complex,” he said. One of the many challenges relating to the project are the various regulatory agencies involved in the permitting process. Form federal agencies like the BOEM or the Department of Defense to pretty much every state agency, Wescoatt explained.

Despite those challenges, Statoil (NYSE: STO) recently confirmed its interest in the Hawaii project at an industry conference in London, according to Reuters. Irene Rummelhoff, the executive vice president of Statoil’s new energy solutions business, said the company is looking to identify opportunities for floating offshore wind farms in Hawaii, California and Japan.

Wescoatt declined to speculate on how long it would take to complete these type of offshore wind farm projects.

“The H-3 freeway took 25 years to build,” he said. “It could be a while. But that’s what they said about the wind projects that we’ve build on Oahu as well.”

Another hurdle is public opinion, several groups have already voiced their concerns about the wind farm’s potential impact on wildlife, environment and surf conditions.


JUN 14 2017
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