This guest post was written by Kit Kennedy, Director of Energy and Transportation for Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The piece originally appeared in NRDC’s blog Switchboard on September 3, 2014. You can access it here.
Could the U.S. go from being nowhere on offshore wind power to having over a dozen projects built over the next five to seven years? That’s a very real possibility, according to a report just released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The report, prepared by Navigant Consulting, is DOE’s third annual Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis. And it assesses the progress the country has made in building the offshore wind power industry that holds out a whole host of benefits for us all.
The best news the report contains is that here, in the U.S., there are 14 projects in what Navigant sees as advanced stages of development, representing almost 4.9 gigawatts of electricity. These projects are geographically diverse.
Most are off the East Coast, where the wind resources are tremendous. But there is also one using new floating offshore wind power technology in the works off the coast of Oregon; one in Ohio state waters, in Lake Erie; one in Texas state waters, off Galveston; and, one in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Even if a couple of these projects don’t come to fruition, that would still leave a dozen or so offshore wind projects in the pipeline.
Now for the worst news: the expiration of the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for offshore wind power, which helps defray the higher upfront costs of this fuel-free technology, is creating a lack of “policy certainty” that is hindering the development of this important energy source.
For us to start realizing offshore wind power’s many benefits—and here’s a short but compelling list: emissions-free electricity; good paying jobs; stable electric prices; and a leg up in the rapidly expanding international marketplace—it’s imperative that Congress reauthorize the ITC immediately. Offshore wind power is growing like gangbusters worldwide, the report finds. We shouldn’t miss out as an industry grows up around us.
Here are some of the key points in the report:
• Getting Close to the Water: Two U.S. offshore wind projects—the 468-megawatt Cape Wind project, off Nantucket Sound, and Deepwater Wind’s 30-megawatt Block Island project, near Rhode Island—have moved into their “initial stages of construction.” New Englanders are likely to get their first electricity from these projects in 2016.
• DOE Promotes Innovation: This year, DOE granted five demonstration projects more than $47 million to advance offshore wind power in ways that spur technological innovation, remove market barriers and demonstrate leading-edge technologies. The large majority of this funding goes to pilot projects located off the coasts of New Jersey, Virginia and Oregon. Additional support has gone to two projects—one to be located in Lake Erie and the other off the coast of Maine.
• Price Declines: The cost of installing offshore wind power has dropped by 6 percent in the last two years alone. With the right policies in place, offshore wind power can be cost-competitive with conventional, polluting power by 2030.
• Policies Can Spark Employment: In 2013, the offshore wind power industry, including manufacturers of turbines, cabling and other components, employed between 500 and 4,600 full-time U.S. workers, the report authors estimated. “As the advanced-stage projects start construction,” they wrote, “employment will likely double or triple to support equipment and installation.”
At the moment, with no full-scale U.S. offshore wind project up and running yet, a global industry grows up around us. In 2013 alone, the DOE report found, more than 1,700 megawatts were installed worldwide; an additional 6,600-plus megawatts are under construction. (These projects aren’t just in Europe, either. China has more 1,000 MW in the works.)
Offshore wind power has so much to offer us, especially in a country where a full three-quarters of all electricity is consumed in coastal states. Offshore wind power can help ease grid congestion and cut electric costs. It can create jobs, mitigate the increasing dangers of climate change, and give our kids cleaner air to breathe. That is, if Congress reinstates policies such as the Investment Tax Credit that get offshore wind power projects off their drawing boards and into the water. This report highlights that the time for Congress to act is, precisely, now.
Katherine (“Kit”) Kennedy currently serves as director of Energy and Transportation for Natural Resources Defense Council. A 25-year employee of NRDC and the organization’s Clean Energy Counsel, she has special expertise in energy efficiency, renewable energy, global warming solutions and air and water pollution.