Feds Outline New Strategy to Scale Up Offshore Wind Power

It’s been a great summer for the U.S. offshore wind industry—and it got even better today. In August, project developer Deepwater Wind finished construction of the Block Island Wind Farm, the country’s first offshore wind power project, a 30-megawatt project off the Rhode Island coast, and the project is set to come online this fall. Massachusetts enacted legislation that will lead to the construction of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind in a decade. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed strong and public support for a 90-megawatt offshore wind project to be located 30 miles northeast of Montauk, Long Island. A vote on this project by Long Island’s energy authority is expected later this month. And across the country, plans are underway to develop offshore wind power off the California and Hawaii coasts.

Now that it’s September, a new report released today in Boston by the U.S. Departments of Energy and Interior contains more exciting news: The U.S. offshore wind power industry is poised to go big and to become cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation in locations like the Northeast by 2030. I was fortunate to participate in a roundtable discussion to review the report’s findings and discuss priorities for action with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Fittingly, the event was held in a giant hangar at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center, where massive wind turbine blades are inspected before installation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, joined by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey were on hand today as the Departments of Energy and Interior announced new plans to scale up offshore wind power around the United States.

Here are some of the key findings contained in the report, which is titled National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States:

  • U.S. offshore wind power is poised to become a major source of clean, carbon-free electricity. Looking just at the commercial offshore wind development leases already approved by the federal government, these projects could support more than 14 gigawatts of clean offshore power—enough to power 4.5 million homes. Indeed, the report finds that offshore wind power has the technical potential to provide almost twice the total amount of electricity generated in the United States in 2015.
  • In some locations, offshore wind could be cost-competitive with fossil fuel generation by 2030. A new cost analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows that with the right policies in place to support market competition and the growth of a supply chain, offshore wind power in regions with relatively high electricity costs--such as the Northeast--could be cost-competitive with fossil fuel generation within 14 years. That’s huge!
  • Offshore wind power could lead to significant economic benefits for consumers, utilities, and electric grid operators: Because wind is a free fuel source and offshore winds tend to be strong at times of peak demand, offshore wind power can lower electricity costs in many regions. Because offshore wind power can be sited near the East Coast’s major cities, it can also decrease transmission congestion and reduce the need for new long-distance transmission. The report also finds that scaling up offshore wind could lead to around $440 million in annual lease payments into the U.S. Treasury and $680 million in annual property tax payments, as well as support approximately 160,000 jobs in coastal regions around the country.

Of course, there’s a lot of challenging work that must be done to make this offshore wind vision a reality. The report sets out a strategy for action, with the Departments of Energy and Interior intending to move deployment and innovation farther and faster, to further cut costs. The steps they’ll take include the development of detailed site assessments for potential offshore wind power areas, to help developers choose the right sites, and the spurring of technological innovation in areas like turbine design (including bigger turbines like the giant 8-megawatt machines now used in Europe), improved underwater structures, and optimized systems construction.

In doing all this, the agencies are committed to environmental stewardship of our marine waters and ecosystems, which will be incredibly important to the responsible development of U.S. offshore wind. NRDC, the National Wildlife Foundation, and other environmental groups have already worked with some offshore wind power developers, including Deepwater Wind, to put in place plans to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, which migrate up and down the East Coast—prime offshore wind power territory. We believe these plans can serve as a model for responsible siting and development around the country.

Finally, these federal agencies will help us better understand the impacts offshore wind power will have on our electric grids, and will quantify and communicate the benefits and costs of offshore wind power.

As offshore wind power advances around the world—Europe already has more than 11,500 megawatts installed—we here in the United States are finally starting to realize our impressive potential. States can be key players in this effort, with those on the East Coast, especially New York with its support of the proposed project off of Montauk, having important opportunities to serve as national leaders. Combine those efforts with those the Departments of Energy and Interior outlined in their new report and that potential should become more and more of a reality every single day. 

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Kit Kennedy

Director, Energy & Transportation program
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