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Islands emerge as potential offshore wind niche

Tue 19 Feb 2019 by David Foxwell

Islands emerge as potential offshore wind niche
Equinor’s highly successful Hywind floating wind project could provide a blueprint for islands to develop green power

Offshore wind’s future almost certainly lies in large, gigawatt-scale projects but niche markets are emerging, among them supplying power to island communities that depend on costly imports

For islands, particularly populous ones, energy costs are significant because the raw materials invariably have to be imported. Imports can all too easily be interrupted and if based on oil, can fluctuate in price significantly.

But islands also face other issues: the Paris Agreement acknowledges they are particularly vulnerable to climate change, in addition to being very dependent on fossil fuels and energy imports.

Many of Europe’s 2,400 islands are small and somewhat isolated as energy markets. However, it is suggested, these islands – where 15M Europeans live – have the potential to be frontrunners in the clean energy transition by adopting new technology and implementing innovative solutions.

Recognising this, the European Commission is acting to develop and support the clean energy potential of European island communities from Åland to the Azores. It would like to enable island communities to reduce their dependence on imported oil, reduce the cost of generating electricity, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and focus on energy efficiency and renewables, making the best possible use of available technology.

In 2017, the Commission, together with 14 member states, signed a ‘Political Declaration on Clean Energy For EU Islands’ and shortly afterwards launched the Clean Energy for EU Islands Initiative, at an inaugural forum in Chania, Crete.

In support of the initiative, the Commission in co-operation with the European Parliament set up the Secretariat for the Clean Energy for EU Islands Initiative which has been operational since June 2018. It acts as a platform of exchange of practice for islands’ stakeholders and provides dedicated capacity building and advisory services.

Speaking at the Second Clean Energy for Islands Forum in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands in Spain, representatives of organisations involved in renewable energy described its potential for islands, among them Equinor business development project manager Anne Marit Glette Hansen, who discussed the role Equinor believes floating offshore wind could have providing islands with green power.

Ms Hansen said islands could provide ‘competitive markets’ for floating wind by 2025 and highlighted that the Canary Islands have expressed serious interest in offshore wind. “Equinor see this as an interesting opportunity for floating wind development,” she said.

She also highlighted that of Europe’s offshore wind resource, 50-60% is said to be in deep water that would preclude using bottom-fixed foundations. “Islands have a strong need for energy and in particular for renewable energy,” she told delegates. “Floating wind is ready to be deployed on islands now.”

Ms Hansen noted that because the cost of conventional energy on islands is high, floating wind – which is currently more expensive than bottom-fixed offshore wind because it has yet to be commercialised on a large scale – “was already competitive.”

Floating wind also has other synergies for islands, she told the forum, such as job creation. “We have undertaken a project with University of Las Palmas Gran Canaria that clearly shows that offshore wind there would create significant long-term employment,” she said.

Equinor’s business development project manager also highlighted that the Hywind project built by Equinor off the coast of Scotland had been extremely successful, with particularly high capacity factors.

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón wants US territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam to be able to develop their rich wind resources

The US also has a number of island communities in the form of territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam, and efforts are under way to amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OSCLA) to enable them to build offshore windfarms to meet their need for energy.

Legislation that could bring that about was reintroduced in February 2019 by Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón. It was first introduced by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, who represented Guam. In August 2018 Mrs Bordallo lost her bid for renomination for another term as delegate in the Democratic primary.

Responding to the reintroduction of the act, National Ocean Industries Association president Randall Luthi said of HR 1014, the Offshore Winds for Territories Act, “NOIA applauds Representative González Colón’s reintroduction of the Offshore Wind for Territories Act. This bill enables US territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam to develop their rich wind resources and power new jobs and economic growth for their residents.

“There is a longstanding need to strengthen the energy security of the US territories and the bipartisan support from House Natural Resources leadership shows that this bill can be the path forward to a stronger energy future for our territories.”

When first introduced in 2018, the House Committee on Natural Resources unanimously passed the bill, which will amend federal law to authorise offshore wind energy development in the exclusive economic zone adjacent to all five US territories.

Currently, federal law precludes the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from permitting offshore windfarms in federal waters off the coasts of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Island, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands.

According to NOIA, including US territories in the federal leasing programme is “long overdue.” If they were included in future leasing programmes, territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam would be able to strengthen their energy security through developing local energy resources, while providing jobs and economic growth for their residents.

In a 2018 letter to the Committee on Natural Resources and Committee of Armed Services, NOIA noted that Congress had previously considered, but failed to enact, legislation to expand the OCSLA to include the Exclusive Economic Zone offshore the territories of the US. It said this change was supported by the Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations.

“We encourage you to take this action as part of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. By doing so, Congress would provide a statutory structure for the management of the renewable and traditional energy and mineral resources that are not currently covered by existing law,” NOIA said.

“Clarifying the Secretary of the Interior’s authority and responsibility under OCSLA will provide the support and opportunity for a comprehensive process for planning and developing any conventional energy, renewable energy and mineral resources in co-ordination with the territories.”

NOIA said America’s offshore energy industries “are ready to increase their contribution to national security,” and highlighted that offshore wind could provide significant investment and alternative energy security to American bases in Guam, American Samoa or Puerto Rico.

The bill aimed to guarantee each US territory a state-equivalent share of any federal royalties collected for offshore wind or similar development in federal waters off their coasts, estimated by the Congressional Budget Office at some US$20M, and dedicate a portion of federal royalties for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Programme, providing dedicated federal funding for coral reef conservation, research, and projects in US territories and nationwide, at no additional cost to American taxpayers.

The bill would also have enabled BOEM to complete a study on the technological and economic feasibility of offshore wind energy development in all of the territories, in consultation with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and mandate federal consultation with territorial Governors prior to any offshore wind lease sales in federal waters adjacent, regarding suitability of windfarm sites.

In February 2019, Commissioner González Colón issued a statement in which she said there was “consensus on the need to modernise Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure” with renewables. Today, only 2% of the island’s energy comes from renewable sources. She wants to see the Department of Interior conduct feasibility studies for offshore wind lease sales for all of the territories and, where it is viable, conduct a lease sale.

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