Offshore Wind Turbines—It’s All About the Seals

To be accurate, it’s really all about the pinnipeds: seals, walruses, and sea lions. They are the key to profitable offshore wind energy … in California anyway. To understand why, consider the recent evolution of wind energy.

Wind turbines have been moving down a learning curve toward larger sizes, greater dependability, and greater efficiency. Those advances bring them closer to profitability even without government subsidies. Yet the subsidies are probably assured because wind is noncarbon energy source. (Actually, there is some fossil fuel combustion in manufacture and installation, but we won’t quibble.)

At the same time, those Eiffel Tower sizes only compound the objections of neighbors. NIMBY, or not in my backyard takes on a whole new meaning for objects visible from several miles away

Siting wind turbines offshore gets some distance from the nearest neighbors. Even better, winds are significantly stronger and more consistent offshore.

For those reasons, there have been major installations of wind turbines in the North Sea, and those investments are increasing. “Thousands of Wind Turbines Coming to British Seas “ declared a January article n The New York Times (Thomas and Walzer, 2010). The British government is letting contracts for what may become the largest set of offshore wind turbines in the world.

In North America, “U.S. says wind could power 20 percent of eastern grid,” according to Reuters, the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicted that possibility by 2024, and, “Most of the big wind farms would be concentrated off the Atlantic Coast in federal waters from Massachusetts to North Carolina and on land in Midwest states from North Dakota to Nebraska and into Kansas.” [emphasis added]

Of course, offshore turbines have their own special costs. Offshore installations are more expensive to install and maintain. Underwater power cables must connect them to the users onshore. Those costs become more important on the North American West Coast that drops off more quickly and compared to the East Coast and the wind conditions are more likely to be, well, pacific.

West Coast Offshore platforms could use additional revenue streams to carry them to profitability. Mariculture could be one such income source. Platforms miles at sea would be ideal locations for oyster rafts, fish within net fences, and seaweed culturing lines.

That’s where the pinnipeds come in. The United States considers seals, walruses, and sea lions as endangered animals and strictly limits harming the poor babies. Thus, they lounge around offshore facilities, such as oil platforms, and they can be aggressive to small boats and divers. Mariculture operations would provide any number of possibilities and temptations for such creatures. They would tear netting, kill or release fish, and endanger workers.

A question will arise of pinnipeds or a major new alternate energy source. And, what will the answer be.?


Tom Doggett, “U.S. says wind could power 20 percent of eastern grid,” Reuters, Jan. 21, 2012.

Landon Thomas, Jr. and Robert P. Walzer, “Thousands of Wind Turbines Coming to British Seas,” the New York Times, Jan. 9, 2010.


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