America’s Energy Future Is Blowing In the Wind

BY ON October 5, 2016
Deepwater Wind project – America’s first offshore wind farm.

Deepwater Wind project – America’s first offshore wind farm.

President Obama has presented the country with a National Offshore Wind Strategy. It is geared to incentivize investment for wind farms sited at coastline locations throughout America. The goal is to generate 86 gigawatts of electricity from offshore wind, resulting in a 1.8 percent reduction in emissions. A potential 160,000 jobs would be created.

This is good news for families across the nation seeking cleaner air. (Tweet this)

I reached out to Nancy Sopko, from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), to learn what this evolving energy sector can do for the nation.

Moms Clean Air Force: Can you give Moms Clean Air Force members an overview of how wind farms work, leases are awarded, and how the wind (measured in megawatts) reaches the electrical grid and then individual homes?

Nancy Sopko, AWEA: The National Offshore Wind Strategy, five years in the making, builds on tremendous momentum created by the first American offshore wind farm, which completed construction this summer. The country is on the path to a brighter energy future, which will benefit communities who will see cleaner air. American manufacturing will help build, operate and maintain these wind farms.

Wind power captures the natural wind in our atmosphere and converts it into mechanical energy, and then electricity. Today’s wind turbine is a highly evolved version of a windmill. Modern wind turbines harness wind’s kinetic energy and convert it into electricity. Most wind turbines have three blades and sit atop a steel tubular tower. They range in size from 80-foot-tall turbines that can power a single home to utility-scale turbines that power hundreds of homes. Offshore wind turbines are the largest of all, with blades longer than the wingspan of a jet airliner.

Once wind energy is on the main power grid, electric utilities or power operators will deliver the electricity where it is needed. Smaller transmission lines called distribution lines will collect the electricity generated at the wind project site and transport it to larger network transmission lines — where the electricity can travel across long distances to the locations where it is needed. Lastly, the smaller “distribution lines” deliver electricity directly to your town and home.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) handles the sale of offshore wind lease areas in federal waters. These offshore wind energy areas have been identified by BOEM as suitable and appropriate for offshore wind development. Where competitive interest exists, BOEM holds a bidding process where companies can compete for the right to lease a wind energy area. Once a winning bid has been identified, the company has the exclusive right to subsequently seek BOEM approval for the development of a project.

In November, a 30-megawatt wind farm is slated to begin operating off the Rhode Island shore. It’s the first one for our country. How do you see the success of the Rhode Island project impacting the future?

The importance of completing America’s first offshore wind farm near Block Island can’t be overstated. The impact for companies and investors is enormous. The world now knows that when it comes to offshore wind, the U.S. is open for business.

This pioneering project is the result of years of determination by the visionary group Deepwater Wind. While the completion of construction is a historic milestone, it must not be seen as a successful one-off, but rather as the dawn of an entirely new U.S. energy industry.

Please outline the top benefits of offshore wind energy?

Offshore wind has the potential to deliver vast amounts of clean energy that will never run out. In America, offshore wind blows where it’s needed most — alongside America’s largest population centers. This is also where electricity prices tend to be most expensive. Development of an American offshore wind industry would mean a brand new domestic supply chain employing thousands of people and revitalizing coastal communities.

Fossil Fuels companies have been receiving government subsidies since 1916. What’s in store for wind subsidies?

Like other domestic energy sources, American wind power needs a stable, pro-growth tax policy. The Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) benefit American consumers by growing our economy, creating jobs, improving energy security, and supporting a new U.S. manufacturing sector. Currently the PTC and ITC are on a path to phase down by 2019, which would make wind power one of the only forms of energy without federal incentives.

Europe has long been developing wind resources. What can we learn from their experience, and can it help America meet its commitments to the Paris Agreement?

Offshore wind has delivered vast amounts of clean energy to Europe for decades, while creating quality jobs and new high-tech manufacturing. In time, American offshore wind power could be bigger than in Europe. We see that pathway emerging today through landmark legislation in Massachusetts and other states. A serious commitment to U.S. offshore wind, based on our country’s vast potential, would make significant strides in meeting our commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement. It would provide clean, abundant energy to the largest population centers in the U.S., thereby reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

How do you envision Wind Energy impacting future generations?

Land-based wind is the biggest, fastest, and cheapest way to cut carbon pollution. Offshore wind holds great promise, as evidenced by Europe’s success, because as the industry scales up, costs come down.

Land-based wind power supplies nearly 5 percent of U.S. electricity. We’re on track to meeting the Department of Energy’s Wind Vision to double by 2020, and double again by 2030.

By 2050, wind power — both onshore and offshore — could be the biggest source of American electricity.

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TOPICS: New England, Renewable Energy