CAPE WIND HAS THE BLUES
HOW BLUE H GOT ITSELF IN DUTCH
Ray Dackerman used to catch fish commercially in the waters off Cape Cod. Then he moved his business to Europe and now he is the United States manager of the Blue H company, a small group of veterans of offshore oil platform engineering who have brought forward the only major innovation in wind power for perhaps fifty years - floating, two blade offshore turbines. Cape Wind does not appreciate Blue H's entry into the New England offshore energy debate.
Could it be that this small start-up company has some of the industrial giants of our age worried? They should be worried. However, as is all too common, the United States government has found a way to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of progress. While the breast beating for renewable energy continues in Washington a true innvovation in offshore wind development has been stopped dead in its tracks in this country by the U. S. Department of Interior. And, the "new sheriff in town" (his own self-description) Interior Secretary Ken 'Slick' Salazar, has done absolutely nothing to help. He is too busy trying both to hide from responsibility for the Gulf of Mexico disaster and helping Jim Gordon become the first American offshore wind developer. He should meet Ray Dackerman.
Unlike many of the known figures in the wind energy movement Ray is not a self polishing promoter with an endless patter of slick jargon and ludicrous promises. He is an intelligent, calm, thoroughly decent man who patiently and clearly explains a dramatically different technology for offshore wind development. And, unlike Jim Gordon he is intimately familiar with the Gulf of Maine, its waters and weather. This is important because Cape Cod sits at the southern end of the Gulf of Maine. As he presents the Blue H technology Ray Dackerman offers projections for results based on his firm's long experience with offshore industrial facilities, not based on what he feels he has to say to please the crowd. Ray Dackerman is no Jim Gordon.
In March of 2008 Blue H held a press conference on the front steps of the Kennedy Museum in Hyannis on Cape Cod. Their announcement coincided with two interesting events; the first hearing held by the Minerals Management Service on the Cape Wind Draft Environmental Impact Study and the annual celebration commemorating the Battle of Bunker Hill. Bunker Hill was the first pitched battle of the Revolution and Blue H was declaring its own form of indpendence....energy independence. All indications were that Blue H was about to change the game for offshore wind energy development. Jim Gordon was not pleased.
This post deals with two questions: what was Blue H proposing and what has happened since March of 2008?
Blue H has developed a radically different type of offshore wind turbine. It floats, mounted on a cylindrical steel tower is a turbine with two blades, not three. Each blade is noticeably smaller than the giant blades seen on the so-called Danish style (three-blade) turbines. Thus, they are able to rotate at higher speed, are lighter and easier to build and are less likely to crack, distort, shatter and fail. These two blades are attatched to a central hub using proprietary helicopter rotor hinge technology. The tower extends well below the water line and is surrounded when lauched by an immense steel ring, a donut shaped flotation/anchor device. Think of it as a steel inner tube with a wind turbine bobbing around inside it.
After contruction of a unit is complete, it is towed out to sea by standard, but large, tug boats. Once at its predetermined location the unit is fixed in place by flooding the flotation ring which becomes an anchor. Chains connect the turbine rig to the anchor ring and are tightened, pulling the turbine down somewhat and tensioning it in place. The completed turbine in place simply rides out whatever weather happens and the two blades rotate, driving a generator/turbine comnbination producing up to 5 megawatts of electricty. This system allows setting wind turbines in much deeper waters, say 50 meters to 100 meters. In fact, Blue H has two turbines in demonstrator operation in the Mediteranean and both have survived class three hurricanes.
There are clear advantages to the Blue H system. They can be divided into cost and location. Because the entire rig is constructed on shore the actual cost of building a Blue H unit is dramatically reduced. There are no heavy-lift ocean going cranes, no huge barges to transport sub assemblies out to sea. Not needing a monopile, the huge steel tube used as a foundation and tower for the Danish style turbines, Blue H reduces the steel required for its units. A typical monopile foundation is sixteen-to-eighteen feet in diameter over one hundred fifty feet high for a 3.6MW turbine set at a depth of up to fifty feet of water and driven another seventy-five - to - one hundred feet deep into the sea floor. There is also no need for the huge equipment needed to drive these monopiles into the bottom. So, Blue H saves on construction costs, steel costs, equipment costs and installation costs. And, if needed, a unit can be moved or even brought back to a shore side facility for repairs or retrofitting upgraded or new components. One added feature: apparently Blue H's direct drive transmission does not break. Transmissions are the universally dependable Achilles heal of large wind turbines....dependable because they can always be counted on to fail.
As for the location matter, virtually every offshore wind energy 'expert' says that deeper water is better as a location for offshore turbines. The winds tend to be more stable and of higher velocity and deepwater sites are out of view from shore as well as being out of retsricted shipping lanes. Blue H does not have NIMBY difficulties. No Nimby objections, safer for shipping, better winds hence higher capacity (output)....who can possibly object to this approach to offshore wind? Who would not want to erect a test turbine or two to prove out the theory?
Back to Ray Dackerman. Remember Ray? He has struggled to get his point across in this country: Blue H has a better way to produce energy with offshore turbines. In April of 2008 Ray heard from Minerals Management Service (now called the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement or BOEMRE). Let's just call the new agency BUMMER for short. In April of 2008 MMS were all excited about the Blue H system. And, they made some statements to Ray that filled him with hope.
MMS said that they were going to put the Blue H application for a lease at an offshore site on a fast track and that they hoped to have it approved by July of 2008. Blue H had proposed a site 35 miles off the Masschusetts coast in an area of ocean oddly devoid of marine life and out of everyone's way. The goal was to build a test unit onshore in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, float it out to sea where it would be anchored and operated as a demonstrator. Ray and his company's managers had carefully selected the test site and had a complete plan to present to MMS and the U.S. Army corps of Engineers, whose final approval is always needed for such offshore projects. MMS were thrilled at the prospect of truly new offshore technology for use in the United States. Then something changed.
Cape Wind called Blue H a red herring. Even though Cape Wind's Jim Gordon has often said Cape Wind will be the first of many offshore wind developments and has stressed ad nauseam the need for huge amounts of offshore energy he has apparently decided he should go first and should be allowed to build Cape Wind without any competition for the energy spotlight. Gordon, who has never built a wind farm, has not even one demonstrator of his own in operation (Blue H is working on its third) somehow knows enough about all this to be an expert on the merits of the Blue H technology. Blue H is still waiting for its test site lease off the Massachsuetts coast, more than two years after it was seen as a done deal.
One is tempted to think that Blue H is a threat to Cape Wind, that its radically new technology is clearly superior and that Jim Gordon both knows and fears this. Others seem to share these feelings because an ugly thing happened in Boston over a year ago. Blue H was scheduled to make a full presentation of its plan and technology to the New England Energy Business Council at a hotel conference facility in Boston. On the day of the event Ray Dackerman discovered that the event had been moved to another hotel but he had not been informed. But, being Ray he hustled across town and made his presentation anyway. You would be surprised how fast a red herring can move. Since then Blue H has been tapped by the Italian and French governments to install more test units.
Now you know some of the dirty side of clean energy. BUMMER!
Copyright 2010 by Peter A. Kenney