Floating Offshore Wind Will Waste Hundreds of Billions of Dollars

In December 2022, after years of planning, the U.S. Dept. of the Interior sold rights to develop offshore wind in five lease areas off the California coast. Five companies submitted successful bids, paying a total of $757 million for development rights.

These leases are located 20 miles off the California coast in water approximately 4,000 feet deep. The floating wind turbines will be tethered to the ocean floor with cables, and each of them will also require a high-voltage transmission cable that will pass through the water and traverse the sea bottom for 20 miles to connect to the grid onshore.

The environmental impact and logistical challenges of installing and operating these floating leviathans are devastating. With 25 gigawatts of installed “nameplate capacity” called for by 2045, even at 10 megawatts per wind turbine, this would require 2,500 floating turbines. Each one would tower roughly 1,000 feet from the water line to the tip of a rotor blade in vertical position, with substantial additional structure required underwater in the form of floatation pontoons and counterweights. To put this in perspective, these dimensions are longer than a modern American supercarrier.

Imagine the impact on the California coast as port facilities are constructed, along with substations, transmission lines, battery farms, housing and services for workers, and new access roads. Imagine the impact on whales and other marine life of submarines installing concrete underwater to anchor the tethering cables or laying high-voltage lines on the sea floor. Imagine the operating impact of thousands of rotors turning along avian flyways or the impact of high-voltage electrical waves and mechanical vibrations from the rotor being transmitted into the ocean depths from an obstacle course of thousands of tethering and power cables, each one nearly a mile in length. Where is the coastal commission? Where is Greenpeace? Where are the regulators that won’t allow desalination plants with a footprint that is negligible by comparison? Where are the environmentalists whose entire business model is litigation?

Citizens in the afflicted coastal counties are apoplectic over the momentum and support these offshore wind development efforts are generating. Money is pouring in from wind developers to contribute to local politicians who support these projects. But the ordinary citizens who live in these communities, who can’t even get a permit to add a room to their home or build a seawall to protect their property, are watching the wholesale industrialization of their coast in a display of institutional hypocrisy that will go down in history.

What will stop offshore wind from ever realizing the ambitious scale currently proposed, however, is its preposterous cost. Unfortunately, that reality may not assert itself until a pretty big mess is made of California’s coastline and coastal communities that, to date, have remained among the most pristine and beautiful swaths of real estate in America. And since the State of California and the proponents of floating offshore wind energy won’t offer a straightforward disclosure of how much they ultimately will have to spend to build this stuff—all of which will ultimately be paid by taxpayers and ratepayers—here are some estimates.

An online document recently produced by a consortium of some of the biggest offshore wind developers in the world titled “Guide to a Floating Offshore Wind Farm” includes a chart of “Wind Farm Costs” with over 70 line items specifically called out, each one showing construction costs per megawatt.

This report is produced by BVG Associates, with offices in London, Glasgow, and Trondheim. They are renewable energy consultants with clients around the world. It is unlikely they are overstating their cost estimates. We also know that since 2021, the year for which the cost data in this report is compiled, costs for offshore wind have gone up considerably. And we know that in California, not only are the challenges of floating offshore wind greater than usual because of the plan to float them in waters 4,000 feet deep and 20 miles offshore, but also because in California everything costs more to construct.

So here is what is likely to be an impossibly low estimate of what it would cost the Californians to install 25 gigawatts of floating wind turbine capacity:

The per-megawatt construction costs (in 2023 dollars) are summarized as follows: $231,953 for “development and project management,” $2,010,261 for the wind turbine, $2,628,802 for the “balance of plant,” and $572,151 for installation and commissioning. That’s $5,443,167 per megawatt. Accordingly, to construct 25,000 megawatts of capacity, Californians will have to spend $136 billion. And that price tag doesn’t include transmission line upgrades or battery storage. Tack tens of billions onto the total to account for those necessary additions.

When it’s all done, if it’s ever done, these planned offshore wind installations will actually only contribute the equivalent of 10 gigawatts of baseload power to California’s electricity grid, since even offshore, wind can only be relied on about 40 percent of the time. If anyone, anywhere, wants to bet that 10 gigawatts of baseload power can be realized in California – through the construction of giant floating wind turbines, onshore battery farms, and thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines both underwater and on land – for a total project construction cost of less than $150 billion, I’ll take that bet and give you odds. It is more likely the total project cost will soar beyond $300 billion. This is California, after all.

To further put this in perspective, 10 gigawatts of baseload electricity is only about 10 percent of what California’s going to need if it goes 100 percent electric. Floating offshore wind at any meaningful scale would be a financial and environmental catastrophe. But there’s a reason offshore wind developers are all running to the fertile territory of California, a land of high taxes, high utility prices, and institutionalized climate crisis conniptions. They’re failing everywhere else.

Offshore wind developers have experienced cost overruns and had to abandon or resubmit bids on major projects along the U.S. East Coast as well as in the North Sea. Headlines from late last year and so far in 2024 tell a dismal story. “Wind Warning: Equinor, BP seek 54% hike in US offshore wind power price,” “Equinor calls halt to North Sea Trollvind project,” “U.S. Offshore Wind Projects Hit by Surging Costs,” “Another Offshore Wind Project Terminated Off Coast of New Jersey and New York,” “Equinor Abandons Offshore Wind Projects in Ireland,” “BP and Equinor scrap New York offshore wind contract as costs rise,” “Offshore Wind in U.S. Is Fundamentally Broken,” Says Top Industry Leader,” and “Offshore wind project cancellations jeopardize Biden’s clean energy goals.”

Had enough?

But in California, watching the state government squander billions of dollars again and again is a way of life. As long as California’s preening politicians can beat their chests and tell us they’re coping with the “climate emergency,” it doesn’t matter how many whales and other marine life die, how many birds are killed, how many coastal ecosystems are fouled as the most beautiful coastline in the world is industrialized, or how many communities are ruined. Never forget that these are communities where, until now, land development of any kind, no matter how personal and trivial, had to pass through a gauntlet of hostile agencies that would make Stalin blush.

Offshore wind, should it go forward, will be one of the biggest wastes of money ever imposed on the backs of working Californians. And in a state willing to commit tens of billions to build a “High Speed Rail” network that will never divert more than a minute fraction of drivers off the state’s neglected roads and allocate additional tens of billions to a Homeless Industrial Complex whose special interest constituents have looted taxpayers while actually increasing the number of homeless and level of disorder on the streets of California’s beleaguered cities, that’s saying a lot.

This article originally appeared in American Greatness.

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