An important milestone in the development of renewable energy in the United States was reached in December 2016 as the $300m Block Island Wind Farm, the country’s first operational offshore wind farm, began feeding energy into the New England grid.
Barack Obama insists that the clean energy revolution is ‘irreversible’, yet his successor Donald Trump has made clear that his vision for an energy-independent America will be built largely upon fossil fuels. So how is 2017 shaping up for the USA’s offshore wind market?
The latest National Offshore Wind Strategy Report, compiled by the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior in 2016, claims that offshore wind represents a significant opportunity for the nation. According to the report, offshore wind has the potential to produce 7,200 terawatt-hours of electricity per year - nearly double the country’s total electricity generation in 2015. In addition, it estimates that the USA could save up to $50 billion in global damages avoided as a result of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and that offshore wind could be cost-competitive with current methods of production as early as 2025.
Over the last decade, the Department of Energy has funded the development of offshore wind technologies to the tune of almost $200m, with that investment beginning to manifest itself in a host of exciting projects.
Permits have been granted for Fisherman’s Energy Atlantic City Windfarm - a six-turbine farm 2.8 miles off the New Jersey coast that will generate 24 megawatts. On a grander scale is Cape Wind, an approved project in Nantucket Sound off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. At a cost of $2.6bn, Cape Wind’s 130 turbines will boast a capacity of 468 megawatts when fully operational.
The Pacific coast also presents tantalising opportunities for offshore wind. Trident Winds have begun development of a project off the coast of Point Estero in California which, with a proposed net capacity of 650 megawatts, would be the world’s largest floating offshore wind farm.
The potential of offshore wind will remain unfulfilled, though, without the continued stimulus of progressive federal climate and renewable energy policies. Under the Clean Power Plan, states will be obliged to draw up plans to reduce energy production emissions by investing in low-carbon infrastructure. To give them a helping hand, renewable energy tax credits and business energy investment tax credits - crucial for offshore wind technology development - were extended by Congress in 2015, with all renewable projects breaking ground before 2019 qualifying for the subsidies.
Such policies will require the support of Donald Trump’s administration and a Republican-controlled Congress. Trump’s indicated preference for reviving the coal industry and his nomination of Rick Perry as his energy secretary could impede the progress of the offshore wind industry. Trump has also described wind farms as ‘disgusting looking’, something entrants to our offshore wind picture competition (starting at the end of January) might have a thing or two to say about!
However, with 640 businesses and investors this week signing a letter imploring Trump to continue investment in clean energy, the President may yet set a more environmentally conscious course.