Offshore Wind: Four Ways You Can Help

January 23, 2019
Photo: John Rogers
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s great to see all the progress being made in offshore wind—technology, cost, policy. But, John, how can I be a part of the action?” Fortunately, there are lots of opportunities. Here are four.

I totally get your attraction to offshore wind. It’s a powerful technology for generating pollution-free (and carbon-free) electricity. It offers energy near where a lot of people live (the coasts), at times when they need it most. And it’s a whole new industry in this part of the world, offering the prospect of lots of new careers in manufacturing, assembling, installing, financing, transporting and maintaining wind farms, components, or crews.

But how, you ask, can we supportive members of the general public help? Help make more of this happen, more quickly, more cheaply, with bigger economic gains, and in ways that fit our community’s needs?

Here are the four ideas:

  1. Help make your state an attractive market for offshore wind growth
  2. Help your community add its weight to the pull for offshore wind
  3. Help your friends and neighbors understand what it’s all about
  4. Get involved directly in particular projects

Careers on the move (Photo: Derrick Z. Jackson)

1. State pull

Energy technologies don’t exist in a vacuum, and energy markets have all kinds of federal, state, and other inputs that influence how our mix of generation technologies evolves over time. The policy pulls from particular states—actual megawatt targets (like this one or this one) or bids targeting/including offshore wind (here, for example, or here, or here)—have been key to getting offshore wind into the discussion, and to helping attract the industry and push us toward scale.

Your role: Push for more pull. Talk to your state legislators and governor about establishing or boosting state requirements, and take advantage of public comment opportunities on relevant bills or proposals. Just-introduced bills in Massachusetts would add thousands of megawatts to existing offshore wind targets. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just proposed almost quadrupling NY’s offshore wind target, to 9,000 megawatts by 2035—enough to generate close to 5 million homes’ worth of electricity. Other would-be leaders may need more of a push.

2. Community pull

While state policies are important, there are also ways to help get your city or town more directly involved in driving offshore wind’s growth. One approach being advocated in Massachusetts is called Community Empowerment. The idea is to allow communities to use their buying power to make more renewables—including offshore wind—happen.

Your role: Make Community Empowerment a possibility. At least in Massachusetts, letting communities choose to do this will require the legislature giving its okay to the concept. Since it’s about community rights and local decision making, it shouldn’t be a tough sell. But inertia is a funny thing. Support legislation to help Community Empowerment and similar efforts over the hump.

Photo: Kim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons

 

3. Public understanding

This one is both big and easy. Offshore wind has been on a tear lately, with important offshore wind advances in leading states, laudable progress in making offshore wind cheaper through technological advances and economies of scale, and amazing demonstrations of confidence from industry that this country is serious about offshore wind. People need to hear about all that.

Your role: Talk it up! Your family, friends, and neighbors (not to mention your elected representatives) might need your help understanding where offshore wind stands in 2019, and what role it can be playing in our energy mix if we get it right. Letters to the editor of your local paper can also be really important. Lay out costs and benefits, risks and opportunities. Tie it to your personal experiences, and theirs. Dazzle ‘em with loads of stunning facts about the power, the potential, and the costs. (To make it easy, watch this space for the latest on offshore wind.)

4. Showing up

The policy progress, technological innovation, and cost drops are really important, but won’t by themselves clean up our power system: We need turbines in the water—well-designed projects, responsibly sited. And projects need permits to get there.

Your role: Getting involved during public comment periods is probably the most direct way for you to help move offshore wind along. As it should, a project’s environmental profile gets heavy public scrutiny, for example, at both the federal and state levels (government shutdowns notwithstanding).

If you have particular expertise (on marine ecosystems, say, or climate impacts), bring that to the microphone. If you have a passion rooted in the realities of your experiences, your community, and our climate and energy needs, weigh in, in person or online. Say what you like and what you don’t, how the project could be better or why it’s perfect the way it is. Let them know why you care about making sure projects get done, and done right.

Turbines looking for company (Photo: J. Rogers)

Power

So, thanks for asking how you can be part of the solution. Lots of options, and multiple levels.

And power, in people like you and me. In the town where I live, just this past week, a controversy over a new housing development generated a sign-on letter from one resident that got signatures from another 643 residents. You’ve got to imagine that that kind of people power (it’s a small town) has an impact on decision makers at all levels.

When it comes to offshore wind, the stage of action may be larger. But so are the numbers of allies, and the possibilities for making good things happen.

You’re a vital piece of our energy future puzzle. Wield that power.

About the author

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John Rogers is a senior energy analyst 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.