AWEA's Offshore WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition Emphasizes Offshore Wind's Bright Future While Also Calling for Action

Guest Blog by Andrea Leshak, NRDC Ford Legal Fellow

I had the great pleasure of attending AWEA’s Offshore WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition earlier this month. The conference was appropriately held in Atlantic City, NJ, a city committed to supporting offshore wind and the potential future location of an exciting U.S. DOE-funded advanced technology demonstration project by Fishermen’s Energy.

The excitement for offshore wind’s progress to-date as well as its future was shared widely among conference participants and attendees.  The growth of this industry is even more exciting because of its unique characteristics:  offshore wind provides clean reliable power, creates domestic jobs, offers greater fuel diversity, reduces electricity prices to consumers, and plays an integral part of the ever-essential fight against climate change.

The conference seemed to be a celebration of sorts:  presenters – which included Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, government officials, industry representatives, and offshore wind advocates – repeatedly referenced the industry’s continually-evolving technological advancements as well as its significant regulatory momentum, evidenced by a number of recent federal lease auctions.  Indeed, at least four lease areas off the coast of Massachusetts are scheduled to be auctioned by the end of 2014.

In fact, many suggest that 2015 will be an even more exciting time, as it represents an important turning point for the industry.  Currently, there are 14 offshore wind projects in advanced stages across the United States.  Three utility-scale demonstration projects are scheduled to be grid-connected by 2017.  And over the next year, installation and construction of Cape Wind and Block Island wind farms will begin.  2015 is the critical turning point where industry finally puts “steel in the water.”

Calls for Action

While celebrating the bright future of offshore wind is most certainly warranted, presenters at the conference noted that there is still work to be done.

For one, the extension and long-term renewal of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is critical to the success of the industry.  It is essential for industry representatives, offshore wind advocates, and supporters of a clean energy future, alike, to all contact their representatives to express the importance of extending the ITC during the upcoming lame-duck Congress session. 

Second, states need to continue to encourage the development of offshore wind and other renewable energy projects by developing standards that will create markets and drive industry innovation.  Though it is clear that “good projects get built,” states can play a major role in providing financial certainty to developers through the availability of financing in the form of renewable energy credits.  We have already seen the success of Maryland’s offshore renewable energy credits in encouraging a highly competitive lease auction.  To encourage similar competition and provide financial certainty for investors, other states must do the same. 

Third, there is a strong need for engagement across the board.  Government and offshore wind advocates need to engage with industry.  Industry needs to engage with stakeholders.  The success of the offshore wind industry depends in part on avoiding and minimizing conflicts among the various players and stakeholders.  Early engagement and informed planning can minimize public opposition, reduce financial risk, and ensure that projects are developed in the most economical and environmentally-friendly way possible.

Finally, to ensure the continued growth of this industry, the federal government, particularly the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), must be forward-looking in conducting its regulatory responsibilities.  With rapid technological advancements already characterizing this industry, BOEM should continue to identify new wind energy areas suitable for offshore wind development.  The fact that development of offshore wind has taken this long, and we still don’t have “steel in the water,” emphasizes the importance of planning ahead to allow for the continued development of this industry.

Indeed, the bright future of offshore wind may ultimately depend upon actions that government, industry, and advocates take today.  Fortunately, as AWEA’s Offshore WINDPOWER Conference & Exhibition made clear, we have the capability and foresight to take those actions.

Many thanks to Andrea Leshak, Ford Legal Fellow at NRDC, for writing this post. Andrea graduated from NYU Law School in June 2014 and received her undergraduate degree from Penn State.  She has extensive experience working on environmental and clean energy issues at government agencies and non-profit organizations.