Floating wind turbines in Hawaii could provide a quarter of Oahu’s power

The state of Hawaii has set an official goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045. In order to help the states meet that goal, two energy companies are vying to implement floating wind turbine farms off the coast of Oahu that could supply a large amount of the island’s power needs. But for a state committed to the sanctity of both the environment and animals, building offshore wind farms isn’t necessarily an ideal plan.

A.W. Hawaii Wind has offered to build two separate wind farms in federal waters: one about 12 miles off of Kaena Point on the northwest coast of Oahu, and a second 17 miles south of Diamond Head. Each wind farm would use 50 floating turbines to generate 400 megawatts of energy. Progression Hawaii Offshore Wind proposed a single 400 megawatt wind farm that would use between 40 and 50 floating turbines off the southern coast of Oahu. An energy supply of 400 megawatts could provide about a quarter of Oahu’s average power consumption.

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The technology at the center of both proposals is a turbine called the WindFloat. Each 600-foot wind turbine is attached to a floating triangular platform that stays just below the surface of the ocean. The floating platforms are attached to the ocean floor in order to keep them in one place, and to enable them to feed energy through a system of undersea cables connected to land-based power plants. The use of floating turbines instead of wind farms attached to the ocean floor itself is expected to be a great benefit to energy creation alongside environmental conservation efforts.

But experts in Hawaii aren’t convinced. The anchor system that tethers the floating turbines to the ocean floor could disturb marine life, and could even pose a threat to passing submarines. Above the surface of the water, fishermen are concerned that the turbines will scare away the sea birds that alert them to fresh catches, or that the wind farms will hinder their regular fishing patterns. Even the tourism industry is concerned, since the turbines will be visible over the horizon.

There are many obstacles to implementing such a large-scale renewable energy solution in real life, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is currently holding meetings on the two proposals. If the agency can find a way to satisfy the concerned Hawaiian individuals and industries that want to protect the islands from becoming over-industrialized, wind farms may be the next step in helping Hawaii reach 100 percent renewable power by 2045.