Commentary: It’s off to the races for offshore wind
The curtain has risen on a new era of our energy system, and this year the spotlight is on offshore wind. Recently, the offshore wind developer Vineyard Wind received approval for the United States’ very first utility-scale offshore wind farm. Not only that, but the Biden administration has unveiled its initiative to reach 30 gigawatts of offshore wind deployed by 2030, demonstrating its commitment to significantly ramping up the nation’s offshore wind efforts and timeline. This is nothing short of historic, and this decision just might fling the door open to offshore wind reaching its potential in the United States.
Why is this a big deal? Because developing wind power off America’s coasts could be a game-changer in America’s effort to repower itself with 100 percent clean renewable energy. Offshore wind alone has the technical potential to generate almost twice as much electricity as America uses now. In fact, a new report from the Environment Maine Research & Policy Center found that even if (or rather, when) Maine transitions to relying almost exclusively on electricity rather than fossil fuels for all of our energy needs – including power, buildings, transportation and industry – offshore wind alone could still meet over 1,000 percent of our electricity needs by 2050. Maine has the highest offshore wind generation potential-to-electricity-used ratio of any state in the country, so even developing a small percentage of our offshore wind resources could make a huge difference in our energy system.
As we commit to reimagining our homes, businesses and lives powered by clean, renewable electricity, offshore wind has an important role to play. We do not even need to exhaust offshore wind’s full potential to make a meaningful impact on our energy future. As Maine’s Climate Action Plan clearly illustrates, there is no singular, blanket strategy for reaching 100 percent renewable energy. Rather, it’s a tapestry, weaving together different energy sources, each with its own role to play. Offshore wind is a great complement to other renewables like solar, because offshore wind is strongest when our future electricity demand will be the highest: in the winter, when the days are shorter and the sun is shining less. It will be there when we need it most, alongside solar and onshore wind, to create a robust and resilient energy system.
Offshore wind speaks for itself. Europe and Asia have been powering their economies with offshore wind for decades. The costs are falling and the technology gets better every year. For example, the turbines planned for Vineyard Wind’s first American commercial wind farm will be so efficient and powerful that each one can power an entire home for a day in seven seconds. And the country’s first grid-connected offshore wind turbine, VolturnUS 1:8, was developed and deployed right here in Maine. It’s not the technology and innovation to develop offshore wind that we’re lacking – it’s the commitment to pursuing it.
So, how do we get there? So far, state actions – such as executive orders and legislation, including procurements for offshore wind – have driven a lot of the demand for new projects. With the Aqua Ventus research array on the horizon, we’ve already set our sights on this coastal renewable resource. Now, Maine needs to set bold, enforceable offshore wind targets, and collaborate with other coastal states, so that we can ramp up efficient and responsible development.
Vineyard Wind’s progress shows that the Biden administration and the country is ready for offshore wind, and we can lead the way here in Maine. Our beautiful coast is overflowing with clean, renewable energy, and by taking advantage of it, we can cultivate a greener, healthier future.
Anya Fetcher is state director of Portland-based Environment Maine.
Originally published on The Portland Press Herald on 06/03/21. Read here.