The Obama administration unveiled their gargantuan National Offshore Wind Strategy last Friday.  If executed, this joint plan by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of the Interior (DOI) could possibly output 7,200 terawatt-hours a year, which would be enough to provide “nearly double the total electric generation of the United States in 2015.”

The official, detailed plan laid out by the DOE and DOI states the following in the opening paragraph of their executive summary:

“Offshore wind energy holds the promise of significant environmental and economic benefits for the United States. It is an abundant, low-carbon, domestic energy resource. It is located close to major coastal load centers, providing an alternative to long-distance transmission or development of electricity generation in these land-constrained regions. Once built, offshore wind farms could produce energy at low, long-term fixed costs, which can reduce electricity prices and improve energy security by providing a hedge against fossil fuel price volatility.”

Essentially what the two departments are trying to convey is that there is an abundance of wind energy that can be harvested off of United States coastlines, and that once built, the benefits that our country will reap from the infrastructure will greatly outweigh the capital costs laid out initially, especially by avoiding the inconsistent fossil fuel price and diversifying our energy sources.

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The primary factors that make up the value proposition for the administration’s plan include:

  • The sheer abundance of wind resources in the States
  • Significant siting and development opportunities that are available today in the U.S. waters (already 11 commercial leases)
  • Electricity demand growth and scheduled power plant retirements in coastal states provide significant opportunity for offshore wind development
  • Some areas, offshore wind could be competitive with traditional forms of generation in the next decade
  • The deployment of offshore wind farms could lead to significant electrical system benefits for operators, utilities and ratepayers
  • A substantial offshore wind industry would lead to tremendous positive environmental and economic external benefits such as:
    • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions of 1.8% which is equivalent to 1.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide could save $50 billion in global damages
    • Decreased air pollution from other emissions which could save $2 billion
    • 5%  reduction in water consumption could reduce water withdrawals by 3%
    • Increasing economic development and employment with over $1 billion in lease payments and property taxes and stimulate approximately 160,000 gross jobs in coastal regions

The framework for overcoming the obstacles that the departments foresee are:

  • Reducing costs and technology risks
    • Offshore wind power resource and site characterization (optimizing designs and cutting costs)
    • Offshore wind plant technology advancement
    • Installation, operation and maintenance, and supply chain solutions
  • Supporting effective stewardship
    • Ensuring efficiency, consistency, and clarity in the regulatory process
    • Managing key environmental and human-use concerns
  • Increasing understanding of the benefits and costs of offshore wind
    • Offshore wind electricity delivery and grid integration
    • Quantifying and communicating the benefits and costs of offshore wind

This strategy might, seemingly, look very optimistic and overwhelming, but luckily many states are already making significant headway into committing to renewable energy targets.’ As of a couple of months ago, a total of 29 states and D.C. have renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) that require utility companies to sell a certain amount of renewable energy. Further, some states are buckling down and setting the pace for others like California and New York who aim to have 50% renewable energy by 2030, and Hawaii who is looking to be 100% independent and running completely on renewable energy by 2045.

On top of states already adopting the ‘green’ mentality, Rhode Island is already ahead of the curve with the very first venture into commercializing offshore wind energy with the recently constructed 30-MW wind farm offshore in Block Island, which is set to be operational later this year. It will spearhead the movement in commercialization of wind energy offshore and will set the tone for the other eleven active commercial leases that are dotted along the Atlantic. Some of the other projects that are expected to be live by 2020 include the Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects in New Jersey, Ohio and Maine. As of last month, they are all stated to be in the final design and planning phases.

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Image: Via boem.gov (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), a list of different states working on and interested in offshore energy development 

A couple of other noteworthy projects that are reported to be in the early phases of development are in California where a 765 megawatt wind farm would be placed off the central coast, and in New York where 81,000 acres of water off the coast of Long Island will be home to a large-scale wind project.

With countries like Scotland, Portugal and Germany already hitting their respective milestones in renewable energy, it is interesting to see the United States commit to such a task. As I provided a brief overview of the ‘National Offshore Wind Strategy,’ I highly recommend you take a look at the full PDF if you want all the details.

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