Along with lower emissions, offshore U.S. wind industry could create 83,000 more jobs by 2030
The American Wind Energy Association, the nation’s leading wind industry trade group, issued a report this week scrutinizing the health of the offshore wind industry and forecasting that the installed capacity of offshore turbine farms will grow as much as a thousandfold between now and 2030. At that level, the industry would generate $87 billion in investment over the decade, as much as $25 billion in annual economic output, and create as many as 83,000 well-paid construction and operating jobs. That’s in addition to the 114,000 Americans working right now in all segments of the wind industry in the United States.
By Meteor Blades
But that steep rise starts from a low base against a now-fading background of opposition to offshore wind that has been a key factor in its delayed development in the United States. Europe now has about 75 times the offshore wind capacity installed as the U.S. does, with more in the pipeline. Although there are commitments and teases for more U.S. projects, only one offshore site is now operational in American coastal waters—the six-turbine, 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island. It has the capacity to power 17,000 average homes.
Even if the gigantic AWEA projection for a decade down the road is accurate, offshore wind would still comprise only 2.5% of U.S. generating capacity in 2030. Last year, wind turbines, including those on Block Island, generated about 6.5% of U.S. electricity—enough to power the equivalent of 32 million homes. Given that AWEA has promoted a scenario in which all wind operations generate 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030, the onshore portion is going to require at least a doubling of the speed with which wind installations are now being installed. Doing that will require some policy accelerants from government.
While the offshore wind industry in the U.S. was dealing with obstacles set in the way by nimbyists, bureaucrats, and reluctant investors to get those first offshore turbines spinning, the UK, Germany, and China forged ahead. Together, those three have now installed 24,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity and more is in the pipeline. Although offshore wind farms are more expensive to install, they have the advantage of being more powerful and taller to reach steadier winds at slightly higher altitudes than land-based turbines. Although opponents can make life miserable for turbine developers wherever they want to build, including at sea, the objections when turbines are in the water instead of along a ridge line are typically fewer.
Six states on the eastern seaboard—Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia—have committed to buying 25,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity over the next few years, a tally that approaches the AWEA’s 10-year projection. They want not only the projects, noted Heather Richards at Greenwire, but also whatever elements of the industrial supply chain they can persuade to set up on their turf.
In fact, as the cost of batteries and other means of electrical storage follow a similar downward price trajectory as solar panels, there’s a strong possibility that offshore wind development will exceed the association’s projection as the impact of the intermittency of wind-generated electricity is reduced.
In a statement, AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan said: “State leaders are seeing the environmental and economic promise of offshore wind and are stepping in to provide the vision and policies to help this industry quickly achieve scale. Offshore wind, following on the rapid proliferation of land-based wind over the past decade, is positioned to achieve significant growth and deliver jobs and economic output along the East Coast and throughout the rest of the country.”
Last year, the wind industry installed 10,000 additional megawatts of onshore capacity, bringing the nationwide total in 41 states to 103,000 megawatts. In the Annual Energy Outlook of 2012, the federal Energy Information Administration’s middle of three scenarios projected the U.S. would have just 70,000 megawatts of installed wind power on line come 2035. In fact, that milestone was passed two decades sooner, in 2015.
To generate its 20% share of U.S. electricity in 2030 would require the wind industry to install another 200,000-250,000 megawatts of new capacity both onshore and off, tripling in 10 years the amount of capacity installed in the past 20 years. And that wouldn’t be enough to satisfy advocates of the Green New Deal and other climate hawks who want to see much faster growth in renewables because scientists say time is short to be on the right trajectory to be carbon neutral no later than mid-century, three decades from now.
The promise of as many as 83,000 new jobs from offshore wind projects has states on the eastern seaboard jockeying for wind-related manufacturing operations. Siemens Gamesa, the top company in offshore turbines, plans to build a $200 million blade factory in Virginia’s Hampton Roads. New Englanders also want a piece of what looks to be a lot of action.
The Solar Energy Information Association has an identical goal for solar as AWEA does for wind in 2030—20% of U.S. electrical generation. Doing that will require far more accelerated installations than are now taking place. SEIA estimates that the solar industry must add 39,000 new megawatts of capacity every year between now and 2030 to meet that goal. That would mean installing at a pace close to seven times as fast as in the past decade.
(Crossposted with DailyKos)