By Jonathan Marshall
On June 29, the executive director of the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative called for a “renewable energy revolution” and challenged readers to answer the question: “What will it take to build a robust offshore wind industry in America, and get it right?”
Last time I checked, this clarion call to action had inspired not a single comment. That in itself speaks to the dismal status of this nascent sector of the U.S. renewable energy market.
While European developers now have more than 1,500 offshore turbines connected to the region’s electric grids, with a capacity of about 4,300 megawatts, the United States cannot point even to one. The long-suffering Cape Wind project, slated for Nantucket Sound, has run into a seemingly endless series of lawsuits and political challenges over the past decade. The latest is an investigation called by Congressional Republicans into approval of the $2.5 billion project by the Federal Aviation Administration.
More energy, jobs from offshore wind
Two years ago, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that the United States could readily develop 54,000 megawatts of clean power capacity from offshore wind turbines by 2030, creating some $200 billion in new economic activity and more than 40,000 permanent, well-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, engineering, and other professions. The best locations are off the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic coasts; the Pacific Ocean, with its steeply dropping continental shelf, would pose a much bigger challenge.
Although offshore wind plants are much more expensive to build and maintain than their landlocked cousins, they can take advantage of much better renewable resources—faster, more consistent winds—and locations near coastal cities that need the energy.
But high costs, extremely complex permitting requirements, and uncertainty about future wind tax credits have all kept American initiatives locked in the doldrums.
Groups seek more support
On July 24, a letter signed by 217 environmentalists, clean energy advocates, businesses, and public officials from the Atlantic Coast issued a letter to the Obama administration applauding its efforts to kick start offshore wind development in federal waters as a critical step to address global warming, reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, and create green jobs. It called for further federal financial support to make offshore wind a reality in the United States.
Meanwhile, Europe managed to install 132 offshore wind turbines in just the first half of this year. They have a capacity of 523 megawatts—up 50 percent over installations in the same period last year. A total of 13 offshore wind farms are under construction in Europe, with total design capacity of 3,762 megawatts, according to the European Wind Energy Association.
In its latest forecast, the International Energy Agency predicts that total worldwide offshore wind capacity will more than quadruple to 26,000 megawatts by 2017. Leading the way will be China, the United Kingdom, and Germany. It forecasts total energy production from offshore wind to nearly equal that of worldwide geothermal plants by 2017, and more than a quarter as much as solar photovoltaic facilities, though less than a tenth as much as the far more mature onshore wind sector.
Email Jonathan Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org.