A Great Day for Offshore Wind: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey All Go Big

May 24, 2018 | 2:26 pm
Worker gives scale to offshore wind blades nearly a football field long at a Siemens facility in Denmark.
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

Offshore wind power is a powerful, plentiful resource, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been a slam dunk in terms of getting it into the US electricity mix. Movement forward on offshore wind in three different states, though, made yesterday a day to celebrate.

1. Massachusetts says yes to 800 megawatts

The state we’d been watching this week was Massachusetts. Yesterday was to be the date for an announcement about which offshore wind project or projects had been selected for the first phase of a 1600 megawatt commitment from the state based on a 2016 energy law.

And the day didn’t disappoint. While the law required at least a 400 megawatt first tranche, the state announced that an 800 megawatt proposal from Vineyard Wind was the winner of this round. The larger project likely brought with it some nicely lower pricing, and was a pleasant surprise.

That amount of power (as our handy new offshore wind calculator shows) will generate electricity equal to the consumption of more than 400,000 typical Massachusetts households. It will also, given the electricity mix and what that offshore wind power might displace, reduce carbon emissions by the amount emitted by almost 200,000 cars.

All that requires actually getting the wind farm built and the turbines spinning. But yesterday’s step was an important one.

2. Rhode Island goes for 400 megawatts

Another pleasant surprise from yesterday was the announcement that Rhode Island had taken advantage of the same bid process and selected a 400 megawatt project of its own.

While the announcement was a surprise, Rhode Island’s commitment to offshore wind isn’t. The new project-to-be, from Rhode Island-based developer Deepwater Wind, will build on the state’s (and Deepwater’s) experience with the first-in-the-nation 30 megawatt Block Island Wind Project. And it fits within Gov. Gina Raimondo’s recent call for 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy for the Ocean State by 2020.

Rhode Island has already shown it knows how to get offshore wind done. While the next project will be in federal, not state, waters, that experience is likely to count for something in the race to get the next steel in the water.

3. New Jersey grabs a piece of the limelight

Not to be outdone, New Jersey also used yesterday to move offshore wind forward. Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a 3,500 megawatt state goal that the legislature had recently passed. That’s the largest state commitment to date, and the latest in the crescendoing drumbeat of state action on offshore wind.

And the first tranche of Garden State action may be even larger than what Massachusetts and Rhode Island just moved forward on. Just after coming into office, Gov. Murphy ordered the state’s public utility commission to carry out a solicitation for 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind.

Offshore wind means jobs (Credit: Derrick Z. Jackson).

While megawatts may be the stuff of headlines, each of those projects and commitments is about a lot more—jobs in the near term, and air quality improvements, carbon reductions, careers, and more once the projects are up and running.

What’s next?

All that is particularly true as even more states get into the act. So where should we look next for leadership on offshore wind?

Connecticut could be poised to join its neighbors as it makes decisions about proposals for meeting its own renewable energy needs. The bids included proposals from Vineyard Wind and Deepwater Wind, plus Bay State Wind, the other entity vying for the Massachusetts and Rhode Island attention.

It’s also unlikely that New York is going to stay quiet, given its new offshore wind master plan, a 96 megawatt project planned for off Long Island’s South Fork (also being developed by Deepwater), the record-breaking lease sale off New York City in late 2016, and federal moves to evaluate more potential sites in the New York Bight.

Or we could be hearing more from Maryland, with two projects making their way forward with state support. Or Virginia, with a pilot 12 megawatt project. Or Delaware, or North Carolina, or…

Lots of future to watch—and make happen—even as we celebrate the immediate past. Because, given our need for clean energy and good jobs, and given the incredible potential of offshore wind, we’ll be wanting a lot more days like yesterday.


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.