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Raising the Bar on Offshore Wind: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Maryland, Virginia…

, Senior energy analyst | July 19, 2019, 11:52 am EDT
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This post is a part of a series on Clean Energy Momentum

Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s tough keeping up with US’s offshore wind progress. The latest announcements from states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic mean even more momentum, as they keep outdoing each other in the drive to be national leaders.

I’ve been using my recent post on offshore wind’s next steps as something of a yardstick or a checklist. By that measure, we’re hopping right along. But even that doesn’t capture everything that’s going on.

My next-steps list had six things on it, and we can already check four of those boxes:

  • Massachusetts doubles its offshore wind requirement. The Bay State almost beat me to the punch on this one; it happened between when I posted the English version and when I had my Spanish translation ready to go. The legislature last year told the administration of Governor Charlie Baker to decide whether it made sense to double the state’s offshore wind requirement on local utilities, from 1,600 megawatts (MW) to 3,200 MW. And the administration’s decision was a resounding yes.
  • Connecticut leaps into offshore wind. The ink was hardly dry on Massachusetts’s announcement when Connecticut ticked off its own part of my what’s-next list: The legislature sent Gov. Ned Lamont a bill authorizing up to 2,000 MW of offshore wind, and the governor gladly signed. “Connecticut should be the central hub of the offshore wind industry in New England,” he says, and the new law aims to help make that case.
  • New Jersey goes big. The Garden State followed through on its plan to announce the first tranche of its 3,500 MW commitment. It announced the selection of a 1,100-MW project 15 miles off the state’s shores, almost 40% bigger than the largest project approved to date in this country, and bigger than any other existing project in the world.
  • New York goes even bigger. Unlike NJ, the Empire State didn’t stick to the script. It had been expected to announce what project(s) it would be moving forward with, potentially in the neighborhood of 800 MW total. When it hadn’t announced anything before NJ’s own project selection, it seemed clear that NY was going to have to find a way to make a bigger splash. And it sure did: On the same day that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill codifying a 9,000-MW offshore wind target, the state announced the selection of two more-than-800-MW projects, totaling just shy of 1,700 MW.

So those take care of the bulk of what I had been watching for.

Need a bigger yardstick

But it turns out that there’s even more going on than what I had been focusing on.

Maine began the process of getting its offshore wind plans back on track as part of an impressive suite of bills—a “Clean Energy Grand Slam”, in the words of one my colleagues—signed by Gov. Janet Mills last month. One of the bills directed the state’s public utility commission to approve a contract for a particular offshore wind project. The project is small—only two turbines, totaling 12 MW—but would be the first floating turbines in the Americas. Moving along that technology potentially opens up a lot more options for offshore wind in the deeper waters off Maine and the West Coast.

And then there’s Maryland, which, with little fanfare (I, at least, almost missed it), upped its offshore wind target to at least 1,200 MW as part of a 50%-renewables Clean Energy Jobs Act this spring.

Meanwhile, construction has just kicked off on Virginia’s own two-turbine, 12-MW pilot project, and the state is getting more serious about building out 2,000 MW over the next decade.

Welcome progress

Targets, requirements, and authorizations that send clear signals about each state’s intent are really important. They aren’t the same as getting steel in the water, which is why it’s also important to have construction underway in Virginia, and Rhode Island following up on its first-in-the-nation project (what might be the first large-scale offshore wind project, off Massachusetts, has just hit a couple of speed bumps). But they’re key pieces of the development of not just projects, but the US offshore wind industry as a whole.

So it’s great to see the states continuing to move the ball down the field. I’ll try hard to keep up.

Photo: Kim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried/UCS

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  • David Michel

    John, thank you for this, however you should be one of those pushing the bar so we actually do protect the planet. Pile driving monopiles into the seafloor could injur, displace, kill our North Atlantic Right Whales, Sea Turtles, Lobster, but pretty much the entire marine eco system. The climate regulatoes are the Oceans (which a lot of people never mention) and injuring or adding more factors to harm our whales will potentially collapse the entire marine ecosystems. Whales eat plankton but defecte so much nutrients that like gardeners, they multiply the quantities of phytoplankton which then feeds the zooplanton (larval size fish and crustaceans).. Can you please cover this aspect of the offshore wind?
    Not only for our future we need to do all we can to protect the planet and its “operators” but labor forces should be alined with “environmentally safe” new technologies and economies.. so specific technoques for the bases of those turbines, like concrete gravity base, will not only be muchbsafer but also will procure hundreds to thousands of jobs in the states getting into offshore wind farms.
    CT State Representative David Michel (146th)

    • ucsjrogers

      Thanks, Rep. Michel. Those are important issues, certainly, and something environmental allies are strongly focusing on, and that I’ve touched on on occasion, including in this recent post:

      Along those lines, as one of my counterparts excitedly pointed out, one of the projects with the just-approved NY contracts mentioned above is actually aiming to include gravity foundations, as you suggest appropriate. The scale of the project would make it a considerable step forward for that approach.

      And, as you also say, the approach offers the prospect of lots of local jobs. From the NY State press release: “…this project proposal is expected to yield more than 800 local jobs and a foothold gravity-based foundation fabrication facility at the Port of Coeymans in the Capital Region that will supply this and future regional offshore wind projects.”

      And I know Connecticut is working right now on living into the legislature’s 2,000-MW, including with regard to the environmental aspects.



      • David Michel

        Thank you John for the answer.
        I am glad you are acknowledging all this. It probably needs to be shared more.
        What I fail to understand is how the last administration just gave RFPs with not much for standards.
        If they start with pile driving, it will be much more difficult to prevent this from happening in the future.
        In regards to some environmental advocacy groups, they were happy to come and comment against my amendments to the bill that would have made a safety line to protect our NARW. I did work with Chris Clark and other whale and sound scientists on the issue and were all mostly in favor of putting a limit to the “sound pressure” matching the threshold for injury to NARW,160 dB 1/2 mile away from the source (i simplified the unit of measure) but let it be known that 130 would be the threshold for behavioral change..
        I am glad that now some of those groups are now lined up. But I would say it was a potential mistake for them to prioritize the development of OSW without pushing it to be strictly conditional on the proper protection of the wildlife and “natural resources”.
        The commission for environmental standards for the OSW by DEEP was negotiated before the bill was passed. Now we certainly hope it will have an actual precautionary effect on the RFP. We will see August 15th.
        Additionally the fact that the deadlines are so tight in CT, it might limit the bidders, we might not get 6 bidders because of the rushing of it. The idea was to have a bidding process to favor lower rates.
        Do not hesitate to reach out.
        We have our next commission meeting on 7/29 at 11A in the Russell room at DEEP.