Offshore Wind in The US: Underutilised and Under Resourced
In 2016, the Environment America Research & Policy Center identified the USA’s potential offshore wind production rate to be nearly double its current energy needs (189% or 2058GW). The reports heralded offshore wind as a magic bullet, providing 160,000 jobs to struggling coastal regions, reducing dirty emissions extensively and saving money whilst doing all this. Fast forward to today and multiple reports have come out to verify this, yet almost nothing has been done to realise the potential. The Biden Administration aims to reach 30GW capacity of offshore wind by 2030. Reports outlining potential strategies for implementation have looked promising but only seven turbines have been installed so far.
Industry leaders have said the lack of progress is largely down to protectionist policies on component parts used for production. In some cases, this is has forced companies to domestically source 55% of parts, but the US does not have the manufacturing capability to meet the fast growing demands of the industry. Companies like Vineyard Wind have been pushing larger projects but have been left frustrated when their efforts are thwarted by protectionist policy.
Bill White, an executive that is leading a Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts was quoted saying that “soviet central planning does not work”. Bills that aim to incentivise the movement of investment and labour into domestic manufacturing of offshore wind through tax breaks and grants have been presented to the House and the Senate. However, this may not create the vast changes necessary to support the industry’s ambitious goals in the near term. The industry has surpassed all expectations in reducing costs but the key to competing with alternative non-renewable energy sources is scale. Policy needs to change fast if the Biden Administration is serious about reaching its target.
It must be noted that offshore wind is not without its drawbacks, although it is a very good answer to the NIMBYism often seen for inland projects. The impact on fragile marine ecosystems must be considered when dumping masses of concrete and wire cabling into the sea. It was identified that suggested projects off the coast of Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware could potentially wipe out a population of Horse Crab. Horse Crab blood is the only known substance for testing antigens in Covid-19 vaccine development, their blood is harvested before returning them safely to the sea. We don’t know how many similar species that could be threatened by projects, but examples like this illustrate the absolute importance of considering our interdependence with the natural world we are imbedded within. All projects going forward must strive to survey any potential negative impacts, offshore wind certainly isn’t an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ renewable energy.
The European approach to offshore wind has shown that investment in scale is crucial, small projects will not allow for the economies of scale to reduce prices and compete with non-renewable alternatives. In Europe, openness was one of the keys to allowing offshore wind to prosper and production to exponentially increase. This was helped dramatically through EU free trade and free movement of labour and investment – the US should take notes.
Vineyard Wind executive Bill White is right to be concerned that his projects may be left “dead in the water” by the current protectionism on component part production. The US has committed to some ambitious climate targets including carbon neutrality by 2050. Putting this in a global context, it is crucial that the US is seen to be more of a climate leader going forward. It is time for the leader of the free World to stand up and be counted after the Trump Administration’s extensive and controversial climate rollbacks. Simultaneously encouraging free trade and improving renewable energy output may not be a bad place to start.