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

July 19, 2019 | 11:52 am
Photo: Kim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons
John Rogers
Energy Campaign Analytic Lead

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.

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.