Strong Federal Endorsement Could Spur First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm to Begin Construction This Year

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News out today from the federal Department of Energy suggests a promising future for U.S. offshore wind power. The agency announced it is backing the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts—long expected to be the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm—with a $150 million loan guarantee.

This move is a vote of confidence for the project that is slated to be built in Nantucket Sound and could provide enough pollution-free power to meet 75 percent of the electricity demand on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, as well as create up to 1,000 jobs in the state. The boost from DOE is key to securing full financing for Cape Wind, as its developers will be able to leverage this sizeable investment and definitive vote of confidence to attract the remaining private capital they need to get the project built.  

Europe already gets more than 6.5 gigawatts of power from offshore wind farms. Today's announcement of a Department of Energy loan guarantee for the Cape Wind offshore wind power project moves the U.S. closer to our international competitors in harnessing offshore wind power's impressive potential. (photo: Kim Hansen)

The Cape Wind project has been a long time coming. Over the past decade, it has cleared two full federal environmental reviews, along with multiple state and local environmental reviews and approvals. (By comparison, a traditional coal power plant typically gets approval in just two years.) During that time it has also survived more than a dozen legal challenges brought by Bill Koch-funded opponents that were aimed at blocking it; all of them ultimately failed. (Bill Koch, a sibling of the notorious Charles and David Koch who’ve bankrolled attacks on clean energy across the country, is a billionaire fossil-fuel magnate in his own right.)

With all of this now largely in the rearview window and today’s boost from DOE, the Cape Wind project could finally begin construction before the end of this year.

That’s welcome news. For too long, the U.S. has been lagging behind other parts of the world on offshore wind. In Europe alone, the industry already employs some 58,000 people, with close to 70 projects that provide more than 6.5 gigawatts of power. China and Japan are getting in on the action, too. Cape Wind can be the first to start turning that tide. And, with a dozen other U.S. wind projects in the pipeline, the next generation will not be far behind. That’s good news for the economy, with the industry predicted to be able to employ as many as 43,000 workers nationwide and provide cost-competitive electricity by 2030 here at home

In offering this guarantee, DOE is further demonstrating its faith in American offshore wind power. The agency has been a leader in the field, collaborating with the Department of the Interior on its Smart from the Start program to fast-track leasing of federal offshore parcels in ways that helps ensure the protection of vulnerable sea life. Its grants to innovative, demonstration offshore wind power projects will drive down costs, improve performance, and make the technology easier to install.

In addition to all of the industry-boosting, job-creating benefits, with the summer just starting up it’s an appropriate time to note one of offshore wind’s greatest selling points: It produces the most power when demand for that power is usually highest—for example, on these hot summer afternoons, when rising temperatures and the energy demands that rise with them currently bring online the most expensive and polluting power plants. With offshore wind farms like Cape Wind, we can disrupt that process, replacing dirty fuels with clean, renewable energy and avoiding grid congestion to boot. That can help improve summer air quality, prevent blackouts and combat climate change all at the same time.

Today, NRDC congratulates Cape Wind and the Department of Energy for their big accomplishment, moving this exciting clean-energy source forward, together. We are now that much closer to moving American offshore wind power from the drawing boards to our blustery coasts.