Offshore Wind in 2018: Four Takeaways

October 25, 2018 | 9:43 am
Photo: J. Rogers
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

The annual US offshore wind conference last week was full of energy and enthusiasm (and people—with the largest crowd I’ve seen at one of these in quite a while). The optimism was clear and, importantly, seemed justified. Here are four big takeaways for me about what’s coming for offshore wind.

1. Wind farms are coming.

The conference included a couple different sets of projections about what projects will get built when. One was from the government agency in charge of wind off our coasts, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and one from research firm Bloomberg NEF. Both agree that a lot of offshore wind is coming:

  • 2020 – The sole project in the Americas, a 30 megawatt (MW) project off Rhode Island, gets some company. The next turbines in the water, they agree, will include a 12 MW demonstration project off Virginia.
  • 2021/2022 – The big megawatts start coming in, including the first tranche of the 800 MW Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts whose remarkably low price is helping fuel excitement across the offshore wind sector, plus a down payment for meeting New York’s 2400 MW target, with a project east of Long Island.
  • 2025 ­– As many as a dozen projects might be powering homes and businesses in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and even Ohio. BNEF projects 3,695 MW installed by that point.
  • 2026-2030 – More megawatts and more states. BNEF projects more than 10,000 MW by 2030 (AWEA, the American Wind Energy Association, is envisioning 8,000 by 2028). And BOEM’s projections add North Carolina.


What may come: Worker with offshore wind blades, at a Siemens facility in Denmark (Photo: Derrick Z. Jackson)

2. There’s lots more to come.

Those expectations about projects and megawatts are for areas that have already been leased for offshore wind. But there’s a lot beyond even that.

Various speakers also talked about the West Coast. California and Oregon have some of the strongest offshore wind resources in the country, and BOEM has proposed three areas off California for consideration. BOEM has also been looking at Hawaii.

Meanwhile, back on the East Coast: BOEM is looking at additional sites in the New York Bight, southeast of New York City, to join the one that in 2016 fetched the highest offshore wind lease auction price yet.

And in his brief remarks at the end of the conference, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke brought the conversation back to Massachusetts, where the US’s offshore wind conversation started back in 2001 (with the proposed, but never launched, Cape Wind project). He announced a December date for auctioning off three additional offshore wind lease areas south of the Bay State and the existing leases.

3. Wind farms = jobs.

Jobs have always been a compelling reason for states and the federal government to push offshore wind. And unions are excited too by the prospects for steelworkers, pipefitters, electricians, and more.

At the conference, AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said that the 8,000 MW by 2028 will bring with them some 40,000 jobs; that’s almost as many as there now are in US coal mining. Vineyard Wind alone has committed to creating more than 3,600 jobs.

States duking it out at AWEA Offshore Wind 2018

4. States want their piece of it all.

And each potential offshore wind state wants as much of that—the megawatts, the energy, the jobs, and more—as it can capture. Even for a tech guy like me, the “state of the states” closing session at the conference was one of the most interesting, as each of five states laid out the business case:

  • Virginia – John Warren, director of the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, touted the state’s “deep maritime history”, a prime location (and lots of skilled veterans) in Hampton Roads, and, if things go according to plan, those next turbines in the water, with the 12 MW demonstration project.
  • Rhode Island – State Energy Commissioner Carol Grant trumpeted the Ocean State’s “unique position” in the offshore wind space: Having the sole existing offshore wind farm in the country. And she plugged the state’s location (good maritime and road access), infrastructure (two deep-water ports), and experience, including workforce-wise.
  • New York – Alicia Barton, president and CEO of the state’s energy research and development authority (NYSERDA), pointed to the state’s position as the twelfth largest economy in the world, its commitment to 50% renewables by 2030, and the big role the state sees for offshore wind in linking those pieces.
  • New Jersey – For Kathleen Frangione, the governor’s chief policy advisor, lots of factors add up to make the Garden State “uniquely situated” for offshore wind: its extensive shoreline, its workforce, its port infrastructure, and the multiple nearby offshore areas already leased out.
  • Massachusetts – Steve Pike, CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, talked about the lessons learned during the years of battling over that first offshore wind proposal in the country—the “deep well of knowledge and expertise” that the state chalked up. Add to that a “proud seafaring tradition”, an “invaluable talent base”, and more, and it just might be too good to pass up.

All of them acknowledged, actually, that it’s as much about cooperation as it is about competition, as each figures out the role it can best play in building the US market.

“The future is bright.”

Conference speakers didn’t ignore the challenges facing offshore wind—issues around fishing, viewshed/visual impacts, navigation, wildlife, or defense, for example—but there was a real, broadly held sense that the time is right for offshore wind, and offshore wind is right for this time.

Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, as enthusiastic and eloquent as always, talked about the “inexorable inevitability”—not just of climate change, but also of solutions like offshore wind. New York’s Barton pointed out the “once-in-a-generation opportunity” that offshore wind represents for establishing a new industry in the US.

And even the Trump administration sees that, and can’t resist offshore wind’s appeal (and why would it want to?). Sec. Zinke declared himself “bullish on wind”, and touted the chance to “build an energy platform in this country for generations to come.” “The future is bright,” he said.

Indeed. Offshore wind’s power, potential, and job creation promise make it easy to find stuff we can agree on.

About the author

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John Rogers is energy campaign analytic lead at the Union of Concerned Scientists with expertise in clean energy technologies and policies and a focus on solar, wind, and natural gas. He co-managed the UCS-led Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative, a multi-year program aimed at raising awareness of the energy-water connection, particularly in the context of climate change, and motivating and informing effective low-carbon and low-water energy solutions.