Wind Power, Not Oil Drilling, Is Future of Offshore Energy

In an era of bitterly divisive politics, there’s one thing that unites Democrats and Republicans across the nation: They oppose Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to allow offshore drilling for oil and gas.

Zinke’s proposal has drawn bipartisan opposition in almost every state affected, and lawmakers from California to New York are considering legislation to stop it. They are afraid of the inevitable spills that would devastate their economies and environment, recalling the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico or the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

“This reckless offer is not only going to be politically costly but the economic costs of taking up any new production are going to be high as well,” California state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, author of a bill to bar the state from issuing permits to build offshore drilling infrastructure, told Politico. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was more blunt, calling offshore drilling a  “really, really dumb idea."

They’re right. America’s coasts should be used to develop energy, but it should be clean, renewable wind power – not dirty, dangerous fossil fuels. The opportunity to develop wind power is enormous for coastal states and states in the Great Lakes region. Offshore wind is not only feasible, but it’s also the only logical choice.

The National Energy Renewable Laboratory estimates that the potential for offshore wind power development in the North Atlantic is over 2 billion megawatt hours, or MWh, per year , and 492 million MWh per year in the Great Lakes. For comparison, the combined net electric generation of coastal states from Virginia to Maine in 2016 was about 437 MWh, and for Great Lakes states was about 644 MWh, according to the Energy Information Administration.

In other words, most of the power hundreds of millions of Americans need could be generated by offshore wind. Technical potential does not mean economically viability, but if even a small percentage of this potential wind energy is developed, the energy mix in these regions would be much cleaner and safer, and it would create thousands of jobs.

Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states are already moving forward with offshore wind development. Currently, the only offshore wind on the East Coast is a 30-MW wind farm near Block Island, R.I., but there will soon be more.

In 2017, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island released a joint report projecting up to 8,000 MW of offshore wind by 2030, potentially resulting in 36,000 jobs.  Since then, these states have committed to a combined 7,500 MW of offshore wind developments, according to Utility Dive.  

  • New Jersey: 3,500 MW by 2030
  • New York: 2,400 MW by 2030
  • Massachusetts: 1,600 MW by 2027

Virginia has announced a 6-MW wind farm 27 miles off Virginia Beach, and Maryland plans to move ahead with a 368-MW offshore wind farm. Connecticut is eyeing a 200-MW offshore wind farm to be developed no later than 2025.

The lone project so far in the Great Lakes is a 20.7-MW demonstration wind farm on Lake Erie near Cleveland, headed by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., a public-private partnership. Even this small project is expected to create 500 jobs.

Costs for offshore wind are dropping, particularly in Europe, where 15,000 MW worth of wind farms have already been installed, Utility Dive reports. In the United Kingdom, wind power prices fell 32 percent from 2010 to 2016. Prices in Germany and Denmark reached 6 cents per kilowatt hour in 2016, a rate competitive with onshore wind and natural gas in the U.S. A kilowatt hour, or KWh, equals 1,000 MWh.

U.S. prices are expected to remain higher for now, as port facilities and other infrastructure need to be built out, but they are expected to drop over time. A 2016 study of Massachusetts offshore wind projected that building out 2,000 MW of wind power would bring the price down to about 11 cents per kilowatt hour. One author of the report thinks it’ll go even lower.  

The 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara, Calif., the Deepwater Horizon blowout and the Valdez catastrophe have shown that offshore oil drilling is always a disaster waiting to happen. And no matter how fast you respond or how hard you try, you can’t really clean up an oil spill. The environmental arguments against offshore oil have always been compelling. Now the economic arguments are, too.

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