New England Turns to Ocean Wind for Clean Energy
A confluence of regulatory changes, technological advances, and perhaps some regional rivalry have New England on the verge of an off-shore power boom. As far back as 2009, the Federal Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management clarified standards for planning, assessment, and leasing for offshore wind-power projects. More recently, the government has leased hundreds of thousands of acres off the New England coast. The leasing coincides with a 60% reduction in the cost of land-based wind power, and there are now entrepreneurs and utilities looking to mirror that innovation at sea.
Some projects are already underway. Partners GE and Deepwater Wind announced in March that they had finished installing turbine platforms on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. The project’s five 6MW turbines will eventually produce 90% of Block Island’s power demand. The island currently produces its power primarily through diesel generators.
Perhaps looking over its shoulder at its neighbor, Massachusetts is looking to open the door on green energy in its own backyard. OffshoreMW and Danish Oil and Natural Gas have combined offshore leases totaling more than 350,000 acres. OffshoreMW is holding off on specifics until the state legislature weighs in with its views later this year, but together the two companies could eventually produce 2000MW of electricity – or enough to power 700,000 homes.
Despite fresh memories of New England’s struggles to capitalize on wind power – the infamous Cape Wind project is still mired in litigation – the incentives for Massachusetts to move forward are manifold. The state currently relies on natural gas for 49% of its power, and that number is projected to climb. Lawmakers and citizens are increasingly uncomfortable with their reliance on fossil fuels they do not produce themselves, which incur prices that can be volatile.
The Massachusetts legislature is drafting its latest omnibus energy bill, and it could include several provisions to bolster wind energy projects. One provision considered crucial to the industry would require utilities to purchase 20000 MW of power from offshore wind farms over the next decade. An investment on that scale would help jumpstart a local industry capable of creating thousands of jobs regionally.
With advances in technology, regulatory changes, and incentives only growing, New England might finally be poised to harness the ample natural resources off its own coast.