Giant Floating Wind Turbines

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 20, 2006

A recent press release promises massive, 5 megawatt (MW) wind turbines that float on the water far offshore where the wind always blows.

In a new development from MIT engineer Paul D. Sclavounos, the 90 metre tall turbines would be assembled on dock and towed out as much as 150 kilometres offshore, where aesthetically-minded enviro-purists can't complain about having to look at them.

The turbines would remain stable via tethers and ballast tanks, able to survive hurricanes and the tallest waves. They will also be portable, so energy companies can move them around as demand for electricity changes.

If it works, this will solve the problems currently associated with wind turbines: the space they take up, the noise and vibration, and the capriciousness of terrestrial winds.

As a next step, Sclavounos hopes to install a half-size protoype off the coast of Cape Cod.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2006 at 15:17:30

nice idea, but I wouldn't get carried away trying to appease people who don't "want to look at them". We don't mind looking at oil refineries, propane stations, scrap metal yards and steel mills. Maybe someone needs to design a wind mill that belches smoke and fire so the North American public can feel comfortable with them in our midst.

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By Allan (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2006 at 20:02:31

Jason's blog comment demonstrates the complete lack of understanding of the true issues surrounding improperly sited industrial wind turbine power plants by those who blindly support them.

While aesthetics is an issue, when turbines are placed too close to homes noise becomes the major issue. This has played out in England, Australia and the US - to the point that residents there have made there own documentaries to warn us. Recently in Nova Scotia, a family had to move out of their home because of noise problems from a project 300 meters away. Instead of learning from these experiences, the Ontario government is repeating them here. There are already noise issues at the few large plants operating in Ontario. Don't believe noise is an issue? Then why was there an Industrial Turbine Noise Conference in Germany last October?

With that said, the floating movable turbines sound like the least intrusive option for industrial wind power. The large onshore installations have a huge footprint, usually thousands of acres, that condemns the residents of that area to live within the boundaries of a power plant for decades. All this for an intermittent and very small amount of electricity. Remember you can't replace baseload power with intermittent power - so wind cannot replace any conventional forms of electricity. As for their impact on CO2 emissions, it will be so small it will be immeasurable. A single transatlantic airline flight could offset any daily CO2 reduction from a 200 turbine installation.

The Ontario government seems hell bent on pushing forward with these projects despite their limited benefits. (Do I smell political oppourtunism?) Perhaps if these offshore floating turbines become a reality, we can avoid sacrificing tens of thousands of acres of land and the quality of life of the residents that live there before it is too late.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2006 at 22:42:04

howdy Allan,

Fascinating stuff. I admit, I've never heard much about the noise problems these things can produce, although I have wondered on more than one occasion. I was being partly sarcastic above. We allow all sorts of crap to be built in our society - Biox, big ugly cylinders, that rotten complex at Eastport Drive etc..... wind turbines seem so harmless and actually add to our electricity mix without air pollution. I imagine smaller, residential turbines are quiet, but your point on the large ones is well taken. Thanks for the feedback and thoughtful info.


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By Allan (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2006 at 08:22:55

It's not your fault you haven't heard of the noise issues here yet. Since the industry is new and the public unaware, they claim the noise issue is a "myth". Both the Canadian industry and Ontario government are advocating as little as 300 meter setbacks as sufficient for industrial turbines. (You are correct, this is where the issues are, not with the micro-generators available for home use.)

However in Europe, where there is much more saturation, experience and public awareness it is a different story. In England the UK Noise association is advocating 1 mile setbacks from homes (1600 meters), a French medical association is recommending 1500 meter setbacks and a German wind farm consulting firm recommends a 2000 meter setback. I think I see a trend here. What the public is being told here about industrial wind power would not fly there.

Unfortunately, I fear since we are a decade behind Europe with industrial wind power implementation, we are also going to repeat a decades worth of mistakes. Why? Because the perception of wind power, as you state, is benign. The reality is much different, but that is not where the "green" urban votes are.

I've been forced to deal with this issue for three years now. The marketing games played by the novice Canadian wind industry has turned me into a very cynical person. I do have faith that the truth will rise to the surface eventually...

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 21, 2006 at 10:26:13

hey I just had a great idea. We should establish wind farms on the outskirts of our cities, and mandate the 1500-2000 meter minimum if that seems to be the world standard. Voila - a new way to halt urban sprawl. The wind turbines could actually be the 'urban boundary'. nothing can get built within a few thousand meters of them.

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By John Pointing (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2006 at 12:54:45

I think these floating wind turbines are fantastic. Another good idea is with a company called Magenn Power. Check out

Basically a helium filled baloon that rotates about its axis and creates electricity in two generators that are attached to the side. Electricity then goes down its 1000 foot tether back into the grid.

Very cool idea.

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By Rachel (anonymous) | Posted November 17, 2006 at 17:33:55

Allen sounds like we have been reading similar articles. I am looking for back up documentation for the setback issue.
Ernie Marshall lives 700m from a group of 10 turbines in the Goderich area, I have heard them myself and feel a 1500m minimum setback may not be enough.
We are appealing the Municipality of Kincardines zoning by-law ammendment for the Cruickshank Project, so references to European regulations would be most helpfull.

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By monica (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2007 at 21:40:09

I am opposed to a 150 MW wind factory that has been proposed around my property in Chatham-Kent. I would like to know if anyone has had any success in fighting the rural zoning bylaw ammendments that our municipalities seem so willing to make for these wind companies? Or has anyone successfully sued for loss of their peace and quiet etc?

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