After so many ups and downs that the situation with offshore wind power in the United States resembled a soap opera—as can be seen by just the title of a book on the topic, “Cape Wind: Money, celebrity, class, politics, and the battle for our energy future on Nantucket Sound”—it appears that this form of renewable energy may have turned a corner. The Biden administration announced today what the Washington Post calls “an ambitious plan to expand wind farms along the East Coast and jump-start the country’s nascent offshore wind industry,” with enough windmills to be built that they could power more than 10 million US homes, and cut 78 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
To make this happen, Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, told reporters today in a press call that the administration would speed up the permitting process for projects off the East Coast—and no longer engage in “deliberately dragging its feet in order to give the natural gas industry more winters of selling natural gas in New England markets without competition from offshore wind,” as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D.- Rhode Island) characterized the doings of the previous administration. (Rhode Island is home to the nation’s only offshore wind project at the moment, with five windmills generating 30 megawatts of power. In contrast, if all the new wind projects under way see completion, there could be as many as 1,800 windmills off the East Coast by as early as the year 2030, generating 24,000 megawatts.)
The Biden administration said it will invest in associated research and development, provide $3 billion in low-interest loans to the offshore wind industry, and fund $230 million in changes to US ports to accommodate the expected influx of shipping and construction.
McCarthy also pointed out that offshore wind would create a large number of jobs—what she emphasized as “good-paying union jobs,” echoing a concern of progressive organizations such as the BlueGreen Alliance. This past November, Orsted—one of the world’s largest manufacturers of offshore windmills—signed an agreement with the North America’s Building Trades Unions to help train its workers for jobs in offshore wind; the company has also provided support in training members of the Masters, Mates, and Pilots union.
While offshore wind is probably one of the fastest-growing sectors in renewable energy, the United States is still far behind Europe, where windmills are a common sight off the coast and the technology is widely accepted—Holland even holds an annual National Windmill Day. Consequently, Europe already gets 24,000 megawatts of electrical power from its offshore windfarms, and that’s not counting the 40,000 megawatts that Britain alone plans to have online by 2030. “Compared to Europe, the US is very much in its infancy,” Rystad Energy vice president Vegard Wiik Vollset told the Washington Post. (Rystad is an independent energy research and business intelligence company.)
Still, the events of today mark a sea change for offshore wind.
Or, as national climate adviser Gina McCarthy told reporters: “We are ready to rock-and-roll.”
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