Administration backs future for offshore wind, but some states resisting

Published on April 30, 2018 by Liz Carey

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Although recent moves by the Trump administration seem to lay the groundwork for an offshore energy boom, and new studies show that offshore wind farms could potentially produce more energy than needed on the Atlantic Coast, some states like Maine have not fully embraced wind farms.

Opponents to wind farms say the disruption to tourism and fishing, dangers to birds and fish around the giant wind turbines and higher priced energy outweigh the benefits of wind farms and renewable energy.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced the sale of two new offshore wind lease areas off the coast of Massachusetts and called for more information about other potential offshore wind lease locations, including input on proposed lease areas in the New York Bight, located offshore of New York City.

The move was seen as a major boost to offshore wind development.

“Secretary Zinke’s leadership is transforming the enormous potential for offshore wind into a concrete pillar of American energy dominance,” Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), said in a press release. “Expanding the market for offshore wind is good news for American workers and the coastal communities needed to manufacture, deploy and operate these projects. Working closely with the states, this administration can lead the United States to become a world leader in offshore wind as it is for other sources of energy.”

The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island is already generating 30 megawatts of power. More than 25 offshore wind projects with a generating capacity of 24 gigawatts are in the planning stages, of which 13 have leases and are moving forward. Those 13 projects are estimated to generate 14.2 gigawatts to power approximately 5.2 million homes.

According to a study released earlier this month by Frontier Group, wind farms could generate more power than the Atlantic Coast actually needs. The study, “Wind Power to Spare: The Enormous Energy Potential of Atlantic Offshore Wind” found that winds blowing off the Atlantic coast could provide four times more electricity each year than the region currently uses. Additionally, the study found that 12 of the 14 states that currently receive 10 percent or more of their electric generation from wind power have offshore wind potential that exceeds their current electricity consumption. The study also stated that even if all 14 states converted all activities currently powered by gasoline, natural gas and other fossil fuels to electricity, offshore wind turbines could still produce twice as much power as the states would use.

That’s important for the country, the study said, due to the amount of energy the Atlantic Coast uses.

“Atlantic coastal states use more than a quarter of the nation’s energy,” Gideon Weissman, a policy analyst with the Frontier Group and one of the study’s co-authors, said in a statement. “Offshore wind is the ideal resource for these states – it’s clean, it’s renewable and it’s conveniently located near our biggest cities.”

Five states along the Atlantic Coast – New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut – have all recently passed legislation establishing targets for using wind farms to generate energy. In Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, the legislature set a goal of developing wind farms that can generate 7.5 gigawatts by 2030.

But opponents say the cost of the electricity generated by wind farms is too high. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, offshore wind is expected to cost $157 per megawatt hour in 2022.

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage dismissed any potential benefits to offshore wind power, and could possibly derail a decade-long demonstration project by University of Maine-led Aqua Ventus for a 395-foot tall floating deepwater wind turbine, focusing on the cost of the electricity it would generate. The LePage administration estimates that it would add between $172 million and $187 million to Central Maine Power customers’ electric bills over the length of the 20-year contract with Aqua Ventus.

Advocates estimated that would potentially add 73 cents per month for the average Central Maine Power customer in the first year.

LePage advocates importing cheap hydropower from Canada instead. LePage put a moratorium on new wind projects in January of this year, citing wind energy costs and its potential to damage the tourism trade.

LePage’s energy director Steven McGrath told Environment and Climate News losing tourism had the potential to greatly damage the state’s economy.

“Geographically, we’re the largest state in New England, but our population of 1.3 million is relatively small and dispersed,” McGrath said. “We receive between 30 and 40 million tourists annually, who spend $6 billion dollars a year, almost equal to the entire state government budget of $7.3 billion. We want to make sure when we use wind energy that we aren’t disrupting our tourism industry.”

Advocates say using floating wind turbines, like Aqua Ventus’ project, would allow companies to place wind turbines further away from shore, away from tourists’ eyes.

Despite some resistance, a report by Moody’s released in late March said that the U.S. offshore wind market should grow rapidly in the coming years.

“Although [offshore wind (OSW)] prices remain substantially higher than U.S. wholesale power market prices, forecasts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory project costs to decline to more competitive ranges in the coming years,” the company said. “The power purchase agreement for Block Island, the first operational U.S. OSW project, was priced at $244 per megawatt hour (MWh) for a 2016 operational date, while the Skipjack and Ocean City projects secure long-term procurement contracts at $137/MWh in 2017. Longer term projections show cost declining to $80MWh in select regions, roughly $30 MWh than forecasted power prices for premium wholesale power markets in New England and New York.”

A study by AWEA found that four states – Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota – get more than 30 percent of their power from wind. Forty of the 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, use utility-scale wind farms to generate electricity.