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How Hawaii Could Finally Make Floating Wind Farms A Reality

06/19/2015 08:04 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015

The picturesque waters of Hawaii could soon be home to the country's first floating wind farm.

During the Hawaii Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force meeting earlier this month, government and industry agencies discussed two proposals to build more than 100 turbines off the island of Oahu.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, received the two unsolicited proposals in January from AW Hawaii Wind, LLC, a subsidiary of Denmark-based Alpha Wind Energy. They call for one farm 12 miles off Oahu's north shore and another in waters 17 miles south of Waikiki, a project totaling $1.6 billion.

Although there are currently no operational wind farms in the U.S., floating wind farms have been running in Europe since 1991, starting with Denmark, which now receives 40 percent of its power from wind.

In the U.S. this year, the Department of Energy granted $47 million each to pilot projects based in New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia with the goal of developing operational offshore wind farms in U.S. waters by 2017.

But proposals have not come without controversy.

In May, the New Jersey state appeals court agreed with the state's Board of Public Utility's decision to reject a plan by Fishermen's Energy, citing concerns that the energy produced would be too expensive for consumers.

Cape Wind, an approved and controversial offshore project once planned for Cape Cod, is basically dead in the water after missing deadlines earlier this year and being riddled with lawsuits from affluent residents who criticized the project for obstructing views.

BOEM explains that offshore winds tend to be stronger than land-based winds, have the potential to generate "significantly larger amounts of electricity," and are generally less obtrusive than structures built on land.

Hawaii has the highest potential for such technology, according to BOEM, because of the state's strong trade winds and its commitment to renewable energy. Earlier this year, lawmakers there passed a Clean Energy Initiative, making it the first state to set a goal of running 100 percent on renewable resources by 2045.

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The proposed Hawaii turbines are expected to generate about 30 percent of Oahu's energy needs, with the potential for expansion. The electricity would be transmitted to the island -- Hawaii's most populated -- via undersea cables.

Joan Barminski, the regional supervisor of the Office of Strategic Resources for BOEM's Pacific region, told Pacific Business News that the proposals still need to address several concerns, including how the infrastructure will interact with wildlife and human uses, and what the physical appearance of the turbines will be on the horizon.

Alpha Wind Energy estimates that if accepted, the construction could begin by mid-2018, with the turbines generating power by 2020. It's an "aggressive but realistic schedule," AWE said in its proposal, adding that its success relies heavily on community support.

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