(Credit: University of Maine/James W. Sewall Company)

Deep offshore wind could produce energy for 8-10 cents per kilowatt within 10 years, according to a report released today from the University of Maine and DeepCWind.org.

The extensive 557-page report (PDF) represents a collaboration between the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, and the James W. Sewall Company, but was funded with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The report includes input from several members of DeepCWind.org, a consortium of companies, manufacturers, environmentalist groups, and academic institutions related to the offshore wind industry.

More interesting than how inexpensive offshore wind might become is the legal challenge such an undertaking could face.

As well as a feasibility study for the Maine's coastal region in particular, the report delves into what the U.S. government and private companies may or may not be able to build in terms of deep offshore wind sites with an interconnection to a common grid, or with a series of independent grids.

Things become complicated depending on whether the offshore pilings and turbines are foreign-made and how they're connected, though this could actually be a boon to U.S. manufacturers and workers.

Three types of deep offshore wind designs are under development from the DeepCwind Consortium at the University of Maine Deepwater Offshore Wind Test Site.

(Credit: DeepCWind.org)

The report asserts that deep offshore wind farms attached to the seabed could legally be treated as U.S. "ports," while turbines built as floating entities could be treated as "vessels," both of which would be subject to the Jones Act (aka the Merchant Marine Act of 1920) and other maritime regulations and cabotage laws, many of which have been in place for over a century.

The report says that one cabotage law dictates that "75 percent of the crew on United States flagged vessels be United States citizens and/or permanent residents."

Another law states that "a vessel may not provide any part of the transportation of merchandise by water, or by land and water, between points in the United States to which the coastwise laws apply, either directly or via a foreign port, unless the vessel--(1) is wholly owned by citizens of the United States for purposes of engaging in the coastwise trade' and (2) has been issued a certificate of documentation with a coastwise endorsement [by the Coast Guard]," according to the report.

"At least 75 percent of the ownership of the vessels must lie in the hands of American citizens. This requirement becomes complicated when confronted with the realities of modern-day vessel ownership, which is often done by corporation or trust, with complex lease and mortgage contracts," said the report.

Under certain circumstances the U.S. Secretary of Defense can waive cabotage laws. Companies and other U.S. agencies can petition for waivers, and have succeeded in certain historical situations, but the process is controversial, costly, and takes a long time, according to the report.

One can see how such laws might present a problem in an age when European investment in offshore wind projects and Asian manufacturing of wind turbine technology overshadows U.S. wind interest.

"Because the installation of offshore wind turbines requires specialized vessels and portside infrastructure, both of which are currently lacking in the United States, the cabotage laws--which restrict the use of foreign vessels in American waters--stand to play a crucial role in offshore wind farm development," said the report.

The report also found that deep offshore wind sites would involve the jurisdiction of more than a dozen U.S. agencies in various ways from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Customs and Border Patrol division of Homeland Security.

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