Offshore Wind Can Only Help America’s Energy and Environmental Progress
The Biden Administration is making great strides in advancing offshore wind in the U.S. Long-stalled permits are moving forward, and the Administration has announced ambitious goals for offshore wind, which will create incredible opportunities for U.S. workers, manufacturers, shipbuilders, service providers and energy consumers.
With efficient permitting, the industry could quickly achieve scale and fuel the rapid development of domestic supply chains. Achieving scale will also benefit consumers by driving down costs and improving efficiencies.
In some countries where scale has been achieved, the cost of offshore wind has decreased by more than 65% in less than 10 years. Furthermore, a survey of 140 of the world’s foremost wind power experts published in April by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concludes that the costs are expected to decline 17%-35% by 2035 and 37%-49% by 2050 for offshore and onshore wind facilities.
These gains and the benefits to associated industries present a unique opportunity for Americans of all political stripes. There are already 17 large-scale wind farms in the planning and permitting stages in every Atlantic Coast state from Maine to Georgia, championed by companies like Avangrid Renewables, Deepwater Wind, EDF Renewables, Ørsted, Shell Wind, Equinor and U.S. Wind.
Offshore wind holds tremendous economic promise for states like North Carolina with its strong manufacturing base, pro-business tax and regulatory environment, and a seemingly endless supply of highly skilled labor and first-class universities. The Tarheel State is just now developing its first projects, and the state has an ambitious goal to develop 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 8 gigawatts by 2040. That would power 2.3 million homes.
With 301 miles of coastline, North Carolina ranks second only to Florida along the Atlantic Coast and is home to a robust blue water economy. Avangrid Renewables is planning the 208-megawatt Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind Project that would begin construction in 2024, and will produce power to serve 700,000 homes when completed in 2030.
While offshore wind could provide thousands of jobs and produce affordable energy for consumers, it is not without its opposition. Misleading claims about costs have been debunked, and concerns about fisheries and tourism have similarly been proven to be little more that anti-development talking points.
In the U.S., tourism on Rhode Island’s Block Island increased the year after the Block Island Wind Farm was built; a 19% rise in occupancy rates followed its completion. Similar tourism increases have occurred overseas where offshore wind projects have been operating since 1991. A 2020 study by the University of Delaware found that beachgoers would be indifferent to offshore wind farms more than five miles from shore and curious tourists might be even more interested in visiting them.
As far as the fishing industry, offshore wind farms create additional habitat for fisheries and benefit commercial and recreational fishing. A 2018 study by Dutch scientists and researchers concluded they are positive for marine wildlife by creating a ‘reef effect’ that makes the water attractive to marine animals, such as seals. This has already been proven to be the case with the offshore oil and gas industry’s successful environmental stewardship and the Rigs to Reefs program, which turns decommissioned equipment into artificial reefs.
What’s increasingly clear is that offshore wind offers the opportunity for coastal economies to prosper. The industry is large and growing, with more than 120,000 workers at over 500 U.S. companies by one estimate. By 2050, employment is seen reaching an estimated 600,000 jobs.
As we continue to progress toward lower emissions and ever improved conservation, U.S. global leadership in technology and innovation has never been more important. Offshore wind will be a key part of achieving these objectives.
To most effectively meet our economic and environmental aspirations, we will need to achieve a balance between new low-emission energy production from sources like wind and solar, along with advanced nuclear and other alternative supplies. We are also going to have to improve the efficiency and continue our incredible progress in lowering the carbon intensity and overall emissions from traditional fuels needed by virtually every aspect of our economy, from agriculture and medical devices to steel manufacturing and textiles.
It is incumbent that policymakers fully recognize as a matter of policy that traditional energy sources that are lower emitting will play a role in our energy future along with advanced technologies and renewables. No country is doing more in this area than the U.S.
A fact-based approach to that embraces economic and scientific realities will protect energy consumers and produce real environmental progress.
With the new announcements from the Administration, it is clear that offshore wind can and will play an increasing role in our comprehensive state, regional and national energy plans. But it will need do so in partnership with traditional fuel sources. The secret will be getting the mix right to ensure our energy security and environmental stewardship continue to improve, while seizing every economic advantage offshore wind offers.
David Holt is president of Consumer Energy Alliance, a U.S. consumer energy and environment advocate supporting affordable, reliable energy for working families, seniors and businesses across the country.