America has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world — especially along the Atlantic coastline. But while the promise is massive, zero turbines are currently spinning in U.S. waters.
Fortunately, federal and state governments have made significant progress toward the first offshore turbines and have put America at a turning point toward harnessing the more than 1,300 gigawatts (GW) of energy generation potential identified along our coasts. Harnessing a realistic fraction of offshore wind’s potential — 52GW — could power 14 million homes with clean electrons while creating over 300,000 new jobs and $200 billion in new economic activity in some of our biggest cities.
These findings come from “The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy,” a new report from the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF) outlining the energy and economic benefits offshore wind could create in the U.S., highlighting progress made to date, and detailing policy action needed to realize the industry’s potential.
Federal Policy + State Action = Turbines
While it seems like offshore wind has been touted for years, the future is closer to reality than ever before. The federal government has designated over 2,000 square nautical miles of federal waters with high wind speeds and low potential conflicts for wind energy, with leases expected by the end of 2012.
These areas dovetail with efforts across 10 states comprising much of the Atlantic seaboard to promote offshore wind and streamline the leasing process. In addition, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have set offshore wind energy generation goals for their states.
The result of all this policy action has been a host of proposals. The oft-delayed Cape Wind project off Massachusetts is expected to begin construction in 2013, and the federal government is currently reviewing lease applications for a utility-scale project in New York, a floating turbine pilot project in Maine, and the Atlantic Wind Connection undersea transmission line. In addition, wind farm proposals are advancing in Rhode Island and New Jersey.
Grid Reliability and Price Benefits
Beyond creating new jobs and economic activity building and operating all these new turbines, plugging offshore wind into our nation’s grid can increase reliability and lower utility prices. Offshore winds blow strongest during the day and in heat waves – precisely the points when demand for electricity is highest and the risk of power shortages most acute.
In addition, the greatest potential wind power lies along some of the East Coast’s biggest cities. Grid congestion has constrained the ability of cheaper power to reach these demand pools and created some of the highest power prices in the country. But if these population centers could tap into steady electricity being generated just offshore, growing demand could be met cheaply. In fact, New York State’s grid operator recently found consumers save $300 million in wholesale electricity costs for every 1GW of wind on the grid.
Global Competition to Lead the Industry
Looking past our shores, the global economic stakes couldn’t be higher. Europe’s offshore wind boasts 4 GW of capacity, powers 4 million homes, and employs 40,000 with 300,000 total jobs forecast by 2020. Meanwhile, China has 260 megawatts (MW) of capacity currently built and plans 30GW by 2020 – enough to power 10 million homes. Statistics like these illustrate how our opportunity to lead the offshore wind industry slips away with each day of inaction.
So how can America harness the power of the wind? NWF has outlined four steps for federal and state policymakers to follow:
- Set goals for offshore wind energy development in the Atlantic Ocean and renewable energy generation across the U.S.
- Target tax credit, procurement, and funding actions to level the playing field for offshore wind.
- Ensure offshore wind projects are sited, constructed, and operated responsibly.
- Increase stakeholder coordination and public engagement.
“America’s Atlantic coast has some of the best offshore wind energy resources in the world, the technology to harvest it is ready right now, and we have workers ready to do the job,” said Catherine Bowes, NWF senior manager for new energy solutions. “We need to take advantage of this golden opportunity to make our electricity supply cleaner, more wildlife-friendly, and more secure.”
Offshore wind turbine photo via Shutterstock