US hopes to tap offshore wind potential

HOUSTON — The federal government is committing nearly $150 million toward construction of three wind farms off the U.S. coast, a move intended to generate power from the renewable source by 2017.

Europe and Asia already have developed wind farms in their waters. But the United States has yet to generate a watt despite an offshore wind capacity estimated at 4 million megawatts, which is  significantly more than the nation’s coal-fired power plants produce.

“We’re trying to break the leaning curve and hoping to move quicker than Europe,” Greg Matzat, senior advisor for offshore wind technologies at the Energy Department, told an Offshore Technology Conference audience Thursday.

Europe started with turbines capable of producing two to three megawatts, Matzat said. But the Energy Department is expecting the newly funded projects to produce five or six megawatts per turbine.

Grid managers in Texas — which leads the nation in onshore wind power–say one megawatt can provide power for about 500 residences under normal conditions.

The demonstration projects, which were announced this week, will be located off the coasts of New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia. Austin-based Baryonyx, which has proposed a wind farm off South Padre Island, failed to make the cut.