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What’s Hot in Offshore Wind: 5 Dispatches from the Front Lines

, Senior energy analyst | March 21, 2019, 9:38 am EDT
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This post is a part of a series on Clean Energy Momentum

Here’s the latest on offshore wind, in 5 quick bites: Projects, pull, protections, power, and people. For America’s newest renewable energy source, the pieces are coming together nicely.

1. Projects: Rhode Island approves Massachusetts offshore wind project

The offshore wind project poised to be the first Massachusetts one out the gate—and maybe the first large-scale one in the US—hit a snag a few weeks back, as it seemed unable to reach an agreement with a key stakeholder in a neighboring state. The Fishermen’s Advisory Board in Rhode Island was threatening to throw a big wrench in the permitting process of the Vineyard Wind project, by hurting the project’s chances to get a required sign-off from the Ocean State’s Coastal Resources Management Council.

A recently announced agreement, though, will see millions of dollars going to commercial fishermen to compensate them for perceived impacts on their businesses—and helped garner a thumbs-up from the council. More.

Plus: In New York, four offshore wind developers submitted a range of bids last month in response to that state’s search for its first 800 MW.

2. Pull: New York ups the offshore wind ante—in a big way

Project announcements seem set to be coming more and more frequently as states compete to attract offshore wind (and related jobs) with the market “pull” of action by legislatures and governors. Requirements from Massachusetts (1,600 MW), New York (2,400 MW), and New Jersey (3,500 MW), combined with other states’ procurements underway, and a likely doubling-down by Massachusetts, put the total for offshore-wind-on-the-way at some 10,000 MW.

But New York has decided that bigger is even better. As part of his latest ambitious state-of-the-state package, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a move to almost quadruple the state’s target, to a stunning 9,000 MW by 2035. More.

Plus: Legislatures in other states are looking at higher offshore wind targets themselves. In Massachusetts, for example, different bills would up the state’s existing requirement by 1,600, 2,000, or 2,800 MW (or even more in conjunction with other New England states). And Connecticut has bills already moving through the legislature that would put in place offshore wind requirements of 1,000 or 2,000 MW.

3. Protections: Conservation groups and Vineyard Wind agree on whales

As offshore wind takes off in the US, a really important piece of getting it right is making sure that endangered species are properly protected. And a key species along the Eastern Seaboard is the North Atlantic right whale, of which there are only around 400 left.

So it was great to hear that some of the most important conservation organizations active in this space had reached an agreement with Vineyard Wind on how best to protect right whales. Here’s a piece of the announcement:

Vineyard Wind and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation, and Conservation Law Foundation today entered into an unprecedented agreement to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Under the historic agreement, Vineyard Wind will institute a variety of protective measures to keep right whales safe while installing and operating turbines at its proposed 84-turbine project off the coast of Massachusetts. Harnessing offshore wind is a key step in transitioning the nation away from dirty, polluting fossil fuels to a clean energy economy.

More here.

Plus: That effort has now broadened into a set of “Best Management Practices” for right whales and offshore wind, from those and other environmental organizations.

4. Power: Innovation keeps happening

Offshore wind technology keeps evolving, as proponents look to continue to bring down costs with greater scale, and look to expand the range of options for deploying offshore wind.

One important recent development is the ongoing increase in wind turbine sizes. The South Fork Wind Farm, planned as a 90-MW project, has now increased its expected output to 130 MW—with the same number of turbines and the same layout—just by swapping out 6-MW turbines for 8.6 MW ones. Vineyard Wind has inked a deal for even larger turbines, each 9.5 MW—60% more powerful than those in America’s first offshore wind farm off Block Island. More and more.

Plus: In the what’s-over-the-horizon category (literally, actually), the US Department of Energy has just announced it’s looking to invest almost $30 million in “new and potentially disruptive” innovations to enable more floating offshore wind turbines.

5. People: The heart of it all

Of course, none of the progress that we expect, hope for, and need in offshore wind is possible without the people to make it possible—and academic institutions to empower them. So it was particularly good to see an op-ed in papers around New England from a range of university personnel highlighting the importance of workforce development, including this:

New England’s colleges and universities can and will help this industry grow even beyond what existing public policy envisions. Our professors, students, and graduates will help ensure a robust offshore wind industry is built with minimal impact on the marine environment and maximum benefit for our economy and environment. As we educate the leaders of tomorrow, we need to build an industry that will keep our graduates in New England.

More here.

Progress

For US offshore wind, these pieces are crucial for realizing our potential. And the progress is palpable and empowering.

And, in case you’re looking for even more inspiration, one more tidbit from the broader world of offshore wind: The first turbine is now producing electricity in what will be the largest offshore wind farm in the world—almost twice as big as the current market leader.

Progress!

Photo: Kim Hansen/Wikimedia Commons
Photo: NOAA.gov
Photo: Ad Meskens

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