First Commercial-Scale Wind Farm in the U.S. Would Generate Electricity to Power 400,000 Homes

First Commercial-Scale Wind Farm in the U.S. Would Generate Electricity to Power 400,000 Homes

May 18, 20212 min read

The Vineyard Wind project, located off the coast of Massachusetts, is the first major offshore wind farm in the United States. It is part of a larger push to tackle climate change, with other offshore wind projects along the East Coast under federal review.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has estimated that, by the end of the decade, 2,000 turbines could be along the coast, stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

"While the case for offshore wind power appears to be growing due to real concerns about global warming, there are still people who fight renewable energy projects based on speculation, misinformation, climate denial and 'not in my backyard' attitudes," says Karl F. Schmidt, a professor of practice in Villanova University's College of Engineering and director of the Resilient Innovation through Sustainable Engineering (RISE) Forum. "There is overwhelming scientific evidence that use of fossil fuels for power generation is driving unprecedented levels of CO2 into our atmosphere and oceans. This causes sea level rise, increasing ocean temperature and increasing ocean acidity, all which have numerous secondary environmental, economic and social impacts."

Schmidt notes that what's often missing for large capital projects like the Vineyard Wind project is a life cycle assessment (LCA), which looks at environmental impacts throughout the entire life cycle of the project, i.e., from raw material extraction, manufacturing and construction through operation and maintenance and end of life. These impacts, in terms of tons/CO2 equivalent, can then be compared with the baseline—in this case, natural gas/coal power plants. "With this comprehensive look, I suspect the LCA for an offshore wind farm would be significantly less than a fossil fuel power plant," says Prof. Schmidt.

Complementing the LCA should be a thorough, holistic view encompassing the pertinent social, technological, environmental, economic and political (STEEP) aspects of the project, notes Prof. Schmidt. "This would include all views of affected stakeholders, such as residents, fishermen, local officials and labor markets. Quantifying these interdependent aspects can lead to a more informed and balanced decision-making process based on facts and data."

"At Villanova's Sustainable Engineering Department, we've successfully used both the LCA and STEEP processes... for many of our RISE Forum member companies' projects," notes Prof. Schmidt.

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