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Tina Casey headshot

Scotland's New Offshore Wind Farm Aims At Global Impact


Scotland is in the vanguard of the global offshore wind industry, so it's no surprise that the country just announced that it has put a new wind farm into operation. This one is special, though. The new Aberdeen Bay wind farm is the centerpiece of EOWDC, the country's new European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre.

At only 11 turbines, Aberdeen Bay is a relatively small wind farm but it has garnered an outsized share of media attention. That's partly because EOWDC aims at having an outsized impact on global offshore development, by new technologies and strategies for driving down costs and reducing environmental impacts.

As for the the other part, well, let's get to that first.

Donald Trump vs. offshore wind

Sweden's Vattenfall company is the developer of EOWDC, and the firm took a polite sideswipe at that "other part" in a press release announcing the commencement of operations:

Gunnar Groebler, Head of Business Area Wind at Vattenfall, says: “The fact that EOWDC now can start delivering electricity after a very short construction time is satisfactory. A sincere “thank you” to all people involved, both from Vattenfall and from our partners for making it happen. Now Vattenfall is given the opportunity to continue to push forward the development of tomorrow's wind power technology, thus helping our customers to live fossil-free within a generation.”

As Groebler pointed out, EOWDC was constructed very quickly -- once it got under way. Work on the onshore facility officially began in October 2016 and installation of the turbines began in March of this year.

That's actually the happy ending to a much longer story. Planning for the offshore site began in 2003 and development rights for EOWDC were awarded in August 2010, almost six years before construction began.

By 2010, however, a battle was already brewing between the wind farm plans and current US President Donald J. Trump's plans for a new golf resort in Aberdeen.

Trump purchased the Aberdeen property in 2006 and claimed the turbines would spoil the view. He sued to prevent construction, virtually guaranteeing that the offshore project would receive regular attention from media in Scotland and the EU as the legal action unspooled.

The case was finally all but won -- by Scotland -- in 2015, but legal issues related to the golf resort continued to play out, and the media spotlight heated up after Trump won* the Oval Office in 2016.

The courtroom battle continued through to Trump's inauguration in January 2017. In August 2017 Scotland's environmental agency raised a new obstacle to expansion plans for the golf resort, sparking another round of attention from the media.

As of this writing it appears that Trump has no legal cards left to play, but stay tuned for more on that.

Scotland's new offshore wind wind test center

The environmental angle brings up important point about global offshore wind development and the new EOWDC.

The central goal of EOWDC is to drive down costs, and to a great extent that will have to do with technological innovation.

Another significant cost factor has to do with environmental issues. In that regard, EOWDC is also tasked with studying marine life at the offshore wind farm including dolphins, salmon, sea trout and sea birds.

The investment in environmental studies is significant:

Believed to be the largest research programme of its kind, and one which will put Scotland at the industry forefront of research and development, the programme will fund in-depth scientific research and monitoring in a real-time environment.

Those findings could help reduce costs globally by helping developers avoid red flags and build public support, both of which would help reduce the risk of delays.

The new offshore wind farm also deployed an innovative strategy for reducing impacts on wildlife during the construction phase:

The technology for building the foundations of the turbine towers is new. Instead of using traditional monopiles (hollow steel tubes), a new technique has been used at Aberdeen Bay; so-called suction buckets. The method is basically silent and therefore the disturbance of wildlife at sea are minimized.

According to Vattenfall, the two 8.8 megawatt turbines at Aberdeen Bay set a new record for largest capacity in the world. With a single turn of the rotor, they can produce the equivalent in electricity to power a typical household for one day. The other nine turbines at the site are rated at a lesser but still impressive 8.4 MW.

Vattenfall expects the new wind farm to generate the equivalent of electricity for 80,000 households annually in addition to serving as the foundation for research projects.

Whither US wind power?

Despite his tooth-and-nail fight against offshore wind in Scotland, President Trump seems content to let the US wind industry flourish.

His pick for Secretary of Energy was former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who shepherded his home state's wind industry in to a leadership position in the US. As Energy Secretary, Perry has continued to be a consistent champion for his agency's renewable energy mission, despite toeing the Trump line on fossil fuels.

The US offshore wind industry has been slow to take off, but in one especially interesting development the Energy Department has just launched a new public-private R&D consortium aimed at propelling the US offshore wind industry out of its doldrums (including politically induced doldrums, for that matter).

The new consortium is a landmark development in US energy history, as it is the first consortium of its kind to be supported by the federal government.

Last month the New York State Research and Development Agency won the Energy Department's competitive award to spearhead the new consortium. New York is eagerly looking forward to $6 billion in wind-related economic activity in the coming years, so stay tuned for more on that score.

Image (screenshot): via YouTube courtesy of Vattenfall.

*Developing story.

Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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