The US is set to break ground on its largest offshore wind operation yet in a move that some say will pave the way in bringing a long-neglected source of renewable energy to America's power grid. Massachusetts and Rhode Island were both awarded major contracts totaling 1.2 gigawatts, which is expected to provide clean energy for 600,000 homes and provide more than 3,600 jobs over 10 years.
The nation’s first major offshore wind farm will be located about 22 kilometers (14 miles) offshore in Massachusetts. The new Vineyard Wind farm will have a capacity of 800 megawatts – roughly enough energy to power half a million homes – and is due to start sending electricity to the grid as early as 2021. It helps the state get halfway to its goal of building 1.6 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2027 and "will reduce Massachusetts’ carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons per year, the equivalent of removing 325,000 cars from state roads," said the company in a statement. Next door, a 400-megawatt wind project was awarded to Rhode Island.
It demonstrates an industry that is ready to expand. Earlier this year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced plans to release more than 380,000 acres of federally-controlled offshore waters in Massachusetts to be leased for wind energy development.
“We see this not just as a project but as the beginning of an industry,” Lars Thaaning Pedersen, the chief executive of Vineyard Wind, told the New York Times.
Offshore wind farms have become mainstream in Europe. Throughout 2017, more than 3,000 megawatts of newly installed offshore capacity came online. At the beginning of this year, 15,780 megawatts were generated by 4,149 grid-connected wind turbines operating at 92 separate offshore wind farms in 11 countries. Around 75,000 jobs have been created since the industry boomed.
The US? Not so much. The entire country’s offshore wind capacity is just 30 megawatts. After years of delays and false starts, it appears the US is gaining ground. According to the Department of Energy, 28 projects totaling a potential installed capacity of 23,735 megawatts are now in the works; BOEM issued 13 leases to wind companies off the East Coast alone. Other projects in the Great Lakes, the West Coast, and Hawaii are also in the works.
With the Department of Energy saying its goal is to move to 22,000 megawatts by 2030 – which could mean 80,000 American jobs – it’s safe to say this could be a big move in America’s game of energy chess.