The annual offshore wind conference of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) last week felt even more energized (and energizing) than usual, now that we have offshore wind turbines actually spinning in US waters. Here are five takeaways in quotes from conference speakers that capture where we find ourselves at this moment in clean energy history.
1. “Our energy challenges are economic development opportunities.”
This quote, from Kevin Law, the president and CEO of the Long Island Association (a chamber of commerce), really struck me as a beautiful when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade kind of approach to offshore wind.
As Mr. Law pointed out, Long Island, being an island, is surrounded by water. (No, really.) Their particular position on the Eastern seaboard means that frequent storms are an issue. Combine those with an aging power plant fleet and myriad impacts on power infrastructure from climate change, and you’ve got good reason for doing things differently.
Offshore wind is totally up for that. For Mr. Law, this new-fangled approach to making electricity reliably and nearby suggests a real opportunity. Not just for what offshore wind could mean in terms of jobs and related economic development, but also for what it could contribute to keeping the lights on when more storms come.
2. “It all comes back to signposting and visibility.”
If Mr. Law’s quote was a taste of what offshore wind can do for states and regions, the quote from Jonathan Cole of wind developer Iberdrola Renewables was a hint about how—how the offshore wind industry will most effectively get costs down and get projects online.
It comes down, in part, to letting developers and manufacturers know what we expect of them and where we want to head together: signposts, and visibility. As a 2016 study on offshore wind costs put it,
The key… is making a firm commitment to scale so the market can do its work. By providing market visibility—the State’s commitment to a pipeline of projects over a set period—the offshore wind industry in the U.S. can deliver energy costs on the kind of downward trajectory seen in Europe.
This was the argument we and many others made in pushing for strong offshore wind commitments in Massachusetts last year.
All up and down the East Coast (and beyond), we want industry players to see their way clear to investing in those states, in this country, in ways that help bring down the costs—by setting up shop here, in one form or another, and by relying less over time on materials brought in from other, established offshore wind markets, for example.
3. “We’ve got a great message.”
This quote, from AWEA President Tom Kiernan, is right on—and, like the two previous ones, also about economic development. And more.
In so many ways, this is a technology that practically sells itself. Or would, if people had all the facts about it—the jobs potential, the manufacturing options, the energy potential, the proximity to where so many of us need the power, the compatibility with fishing and other uses of our country’s Outer Continental Shelf—and if costs keep dropping so impressively. It is a great message.
4. “We think this is a race we can win.”
The conference was held in New York City, and the keynote speaker was NY Lt. Governor Karen Hochul. And the lt. governor threw down the gauntlet, in no uncertain terms.
The race she was talking about wasn’t the contest between us and the increasing effects of climate change. It was about the race to become the center of America’s offshore wind activity, or even the world’s.
Lt. Gov. Hochul laid out three reasons why New York will serve as the “preeminent global hub” for offshore wind in this country. According to her: wind is not a political issue in New York (it enjoys bipartisan support), the Empire State embraces innovation, and the state is laying down the building blocks (“smoothing the road for you”), with the forthcoming New York Offshore Wind Master Plan that they previewed at the conference.
Good arguments, all. But Massachusetts isn’t yielding. At the same conference the Bay State unveiled a new study of ports and infrastructure—in particular, waterfront properties “that could be acquired and potentially improved through private investment to become suitable facilities for a number of offshore wind activities.” And don’t think they’re thinking about those facilities serving only Massachusetts markets…
Maryland isn’t ceding ground, either, or Rhode Island—first-to-offshore-wind Rhode Island—or New Jersey (once they have a new governor), or…
While some cooperation will be useful to make sure that activities in different states complement each other to the extent possible, that competition can be a powerful motivator.
5. “There is a transition… ongoing and we all should be part of it.”
This quote is from Michael Olsen of Statoil Wind US, the company developing the newly named “Empire Wind” farm off NYC and Long Island, and it sums it up. Offshore wind is happening, with more than 14,000 megawatts of offshore wind outside the US, in 13 countries and two continents. The 30 megawatts installed last year off Rhode Island was part of an 18% increase in wind farm capacity globally in 2016. And there’s lots more on the way.
For American jobs, for American energy, for American security, for our environment… we should indeed be part of it.