Gov. Chris Sununu has joined governors in some neighboring states in seeking a federal study of offshore wind power, as a new study supports that technology’s ability to help New England cope with natural gas shortages during extreme cold spells.
Sununu’s Jan. 2 letter asks the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to establish a federal task force to study “renewable energy commercial leasing proposals in federal waters” off New Hampshire. This is the first of many steps necessary for large-scale wind farms to be built off New Hampshire’s 18-mile coastline, which is the shortest of all coastal states.
Last month, three companies bid $405 million for such leases off the southern coast of Cape Cod and Rhode Island, indicating developer interest in establish huge offshore wind farms close to the electricity-hungry Northeast.
Also last month, the group that runs the six-state power grid released a report saying that large offshore wind farms could go a long way toward lowering electricity costs and guaranteeing electricity supply in New England during cold winter months. More than half of New England’s electricity is produced by natural gas-fired power plants, which have trouble getting enough fuel during cold snaps when most gas is used for heating.
The group modeled how offshore wind farms could react during a two-week blast of frigid weather. It estimated that wind facilities would have reduced natural gas consumption by generators by 20 percent, and pushed down consumption of oil to fire back-up furnaces by 7 percent.
Offshore wind farms are usually seen as being more effective than onshore wind farms partly because they face fewer concerns about visual impact, allowing the construction of much larger and more efficient turbines, and partly because winds are more regular over the ocean, especially off the Northeast coast.