Last week, the Interior Department announced the first federal offshore wind lease sale for an area 9 miles off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. To select the site, Interior had to dodge shipping lanes and migratory bird patterns, while sticking to areas with excellent wind power potential capacity. If it is developed into an offshore wind farm, the energy produced could generate 3,400 megawatts, enough to power more than 1 million homes.
Secretary Sally Jewell said, “If there is good interest in this one, then I think you will have this happening on a consistent basis.” In November, the Department announced another possible lease off the coast of Virginia, but did not set a date. The success of these auctions depends on interest from the private sector.
There are several reasons the United States has installed exactly zero offshore wind farms, whereas the industry is up and running in Europe.
Cape Wind is a planned wind farm in Massachusetts that advanced as far as any project in the country to actually putting steel in the water. It incurred almost a decade of delay following regulatory confusion over what agencies have jurisdiction, legal challenges from many different groups, and some Cape Cod residents objecting to the project for various parochial reasons.
The wind production tax credit has boosted the onshore wind industry in the U.S., but offshore wind projects are more expensive up-front. This makes a tax incentive for generated electricity less feasible for offshore projects. Investment tax credits (which take total costs into account when calculating the subsidy) could help the offshore industry get off the ground and eventually reduce the cost of an offshore wind farm. Bipartisan legislation would give a 30 percent credit for the first 3,000 megawatts from offshore wind, or about 600 turbines.
The Department of Energy has begun the development of wind energy along the Mid-Atlantic coast using a “Smart for the Start” approach designed to expedite the siting process while incorporating strong environmental protections. Maryland recently passed a bill encouraging development of offshore wind. It’s not just wind — tidal and wave energy present huge opportunities all over the American coastline.
There was, however, a recent development that has allowed the U.S. to say that it truly has “steel in the water.” Off the coast of Maine last weekend, a team led by the University of Maine deployed the nation’s first offshore floating wind turbine connected to the grid.