Offshore Wind Power

Cape Wind Ignites U.S. Offshore Market

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted September 21, 2009

Cape Cod is about to be turned upside down.

Known for its $50 million homes, yacht clubs, and kettle-cooked potato chips, it'll soon have another defining image: 130 wind turbines on the Horseshoe Shoal of the Nantucket Sound.

These turbines — rated at 3.6 MW each and provided by GE — are a part of the Cape Wind project that will be the nation's first large-scale offshore wind farm.  This wind farm will have the capacity to supply enough electricity for roughly 75 percent of Cape Cod and the neighboring islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

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While the offshore wind farm won't be operational until 2011, developer Cape Wind Associates has been hard at work, permitting and collecting environmental data since 2001.

Since then, Cape Wind has received a nearly-spotless bill of health following tough scrutiny by various local, state, and federal agencies.

In 2007, the project took a significant blow when the Cape Cod Commission denied the request for a necessary permit to begin the project, after more than half a decade of heated debate from the public.

That did not stop the project from moving forward, however. . . in May 2009, the State Energy Facilities Sitting Board presented the Cape Wind project with a composite certificate — or "super permit" — granting the project all of the approval necessary to break ground.

Of course, those who fought the project from its inception have not yet traded their picket signs for acceptance. . .

The fact is even after the Minerals Management Service found the Cape Wind project free of presenting any major lasting impacts on wildlife, navigation, fishing, tourism or recreation (which was a consistent criticism of the project), opponents continue to carry on their tired arguments.

And I suspect even after the farm is built and is sending clean green power to the region — which, by the way, endures some of the most expensive and volatile energy prices in the nation — some of these same folks will continue to present their arguments to anyone who will listen.

Fair enough.

But to its credit, the Cape Wind project has jumped through all the necessary permitting, regulatory, and environmental hoops. Most residents even support it. According to a 2008 Newswire poll, 78% of Cape Cod residents feel that their state should be a large-scale leader in renewable energy by moving ahead with offshore wind power.

It's not surprising that hordes of folks are on-board with a renewable energy project in a state where energy prices are the second highest in the United States. . . behind only the Hawaiian Islands, where a large chunk of electricity still comes from oil and diesel!

But with the energy provided by the Cape Wind project, Massachusetts residents will have a low-cost provider to compete with current options.

While estimates vary, sadly because of political leanings, some show Cape Wind is expected to save the New England region over $25 million per year on energy bills.

With projected savings like those, you can bet offshore wind is being looked to in a variety of locales.

More Offshore Wind Projects

Besides Cape Wind, there are no less than 17 offshore wind farms being planned in the United States.

The largest — a 1.95 GW behemoth called Radial Wind Farm — is slated for 2012 completion in Michigan, obviously on the Great Lakes.

And the Eastern Seaboard will soon be an offshore wind Mecca. In addition to Cape Wind's 420 MW, another 700 MW are being proposed for Massachusetts's shores.

Proposals representing several gigawatts are on the books in Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia.

My home state of Maryland, through the state Energy Administration, began soliciting business interest in offshore wind last week.

And plans are coming in from the West Coast, as well, including a 150 MW farm in the works for Tillamook County, Oregon.

In Europe, several offshore wind projects have already been completed. The U.K. boasts a few hundred online megawatts, as do Belgium and the Netherlands.

But Denmark — home of industry-leader Vestas (COP: VWS) — is the far-and-away leader, with nearly 700 MW gracing their shores.

As an exclamation point on how fast offshore farms are becoming mainstream, Denmark recently commissioned the biggest project to date; turbines at the 209 MW farm Horns Rev 2 started turning in the North Sea just last week.

When it comes to an investment angle, however, the same strategies used for land-based installations apply.

Turbines are still being supplied by stalwarts like GE (NYSE: GE), Siemens (NYSE: SI), and Vestas. And installations are mostly being facilitated by either large utilities or private investors.

Given that most of the wind leaders are foreign-based, the best way to harness this growth is still through an ETF. That way, you can have exposure to several companies with skin in the wind game.

I prefer First Trust Global Wind Energy (NYSE: FAN), which not only holds all of the relevant players, but has doubled in the past six months as capital started flowing to cleantech projects once again.

It'll only edge higher as the United States, Europe, and Asia continue to increase their use of wind energy. . . both on- and offshore.

Good Investing,

—Kyle Haas

P.S. In addition to the ETF I mentioned above, Nick Hodge has given readers of his Alternative Energy Speculator the names of two other wind stocks he think will double. Click here to read about why the industry is moving so quickly, and how you can get the names of the other two wind stocks that could double.