New Jersey’s first offshore wind farm will also be among the first in the world to be powered by the biggest and most powerful turbines ever built, the project’s developer said.
Ocean Wind, a planned farm about 15 miles off Atlantic City, is due to start operating in 2024, using as many as 99 Haliade-X turbines — giant machines that will tower 853 feet (260 meters) above the ocean’s surface, using blades that are 351 feet (107 meters) long, and can each generate enough electricity to power 16,000 homes.
The technology, built by GE, has a working prototype near the Port of Rotterdam in The Netherlands, but it hasn’t yet been commercially deployed. The turbines are also scheduled to be used for the planned Skipjack wind farm — much smaller than the New Jersey project — off the coast of Maryland, that is expected to start operating by the end of 2023.
GE says each of the turbines, each with a 12-megawatt (MW) capacity, can generate emissions-free electricity that equates to taking 10,000 cars off the road annually.
Reducing costs, environmental impact
Building bigger turbines helps offshore wind developers to cut their costs and install fewer of the machines. “The industry trend is to use larger offshore turbines to reduce cost and environmental and visual impacts,” said Gabriel Martinez, a spokesman for the Danish company Ørsted, which is developing several wind farms off the U.S. East Coast, including Ocean Wind.
The project is designed to generate 1.1 gigawatts (GW), or about one-seventh of New Jersey’s 7.5 GW goal for total offshore wind power by 2035, as set by Gov. Phil Murphy. Murphy has said he wants New Jersey to achieve 100% clean energy by 2050, and about 18% of it would come from offshore wind if the 7.5 GW target is hit. That would be enough to power almost all (94%) of the state’s homes, according to the Board of Public Utilities.
Underscoring the importance of offshore wind in the overall clean-energy goal, Murphy has also announced the construction of a state-owned wind port where turbine components would be made and assembled, serving the growing wind industry off New Jersey and throughout the East Coast. In December, Murphy also highlighted a new privately owned $250 million factory at Paulsboro for construction of turbine towers, or “monopiles.”
The U.S. industry’s growth is being underpinned by the commitment of seven East Coast states to buy offshore wind power. Collectively, the states have agreed to buy 24 GW of offshore power, or about three times New Jersey’s goal, by 2035, according to a study by the University of Delaware (UD) in 2019. New Jersey’s goal is the second-largest after New York, which has committed to buying 9 GW. Just one East Coast wind farm, a small project off Rhode Island, is currently operating, generating 30 MW.
Despite the states’ support, operators like Ørsted are investing billions of dollars in the industry, and so want to start getting revenue by producing power as soon as possible, said Willett Kempton, a UD professor who oversaw the study.
‘A race to turn on the power’
“They’ve all got tens of billions of dollars in each of these projects, and that’s just burning a hole in your payments every month,” Kempton said. “Until you’ve got all the paperwork and the engineering done and you throw the switch and you are online, you’ve just got money going down the toilet. So they are all in a race to turn on the power.”
He argued that the rush to recoup investment is leading operators to take a chance with new technology like the Haliade-X rather than waiting to see if it is commercially and technically successful over a long period, as the industry has done in the past.
“If you talk to people who have been building wind farms for 20 years, they will say, ‘Don’t use a new turbine; you want a turbine that has been in another 20 wind farms already because that one is not going to have any problems,’” Kempton said.
Kempton, an advocate for offshore wind, said it’s not clear that the operators using the giant turbines are confident in the technology’s success but are pushing ahead anyway for commercial reasons.
“I don’t think they are confident,” he said. “They would be going against 20 years of experience but it is so much lower cost that they are willing to take that risk.”
GE said in a statement that Ocean Wind or one of the other U.S. projects will be the first to commercially deploy the giant turbines. “As one of the first uses of the Haliade-X, the Ocean Wind project will be an important opportunity to demonstrate what the latest offshore wind technology can do to support the clean-energy ambitions of New Jersey, other U.S. states, and other countries,” the company said in a statement.
NJ taking on larger role in offshore wind
Joseph Brodie, a professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said use of the bigger turbines at the Atlantic City site will likely show that they can be deployed at a commercial scale, and will boost New Jersey’s role in development of the industry.
“The construction of the Haliade-X turbines for Ocean Wind will be a strong demonstration of the ongoing development of larger and larger turbines used for offshore wind farms,” he said. “I think it will also ensure New Jersey’s place on the global offshore wind stage, through the first deployment at scale of the largest wind turbine design to date.”
Because it will be the first large-scale wind farm off the U.S. coast, Ocean Wind could also help to establish America’s belated entry into the global offshore wind market, Brodie said.
“If Ørsted succeeds in building the first large-scale wind farm in the U.S. using the largest offshore wind turbine off of Atlantic City, it will show that New Jersey and the U.S. as a whole are serious players in offshore wind,” he said.