The following is a contributed article by Stephanie McClellan, director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, a U.S. offshore wind energy policy and communications program based at the University of Delaware.
Last month the American wind industry hit a major milestone — 100 gigawatts of total installed capacity. That's enough electricity to power the state of California and New Jersey combined for one year.
Offshore wind represents a large portion of new gigawatts in the pipeline, and we should do everything we can to keep it growing — for the good of our economy and the health of our oceans. There's a revolution happening along our coasts, with the number of offshore wind projects ballooning over the past year.
And the costs have been plummeting. Global offshore wind prices have dropped 32% in the past year and 12% in the past six months. A new outlook from the International Energy Agency predicts offshore wind generation will grow 15-fold in the next 20 years, emerging as a $1 trillion global industry.
While offshore wind is just finally hitting its stride here in the United States, Europe and Asia have proven how profitable it is to harness ocean winds to create electricity. Progress here in the U.S. in 2019 alone shows that we're well on our way to realizing the same profits. State commitments for offshore wind have now reached over 22 gigawatts by 2035 — equal to the entire installed capacity in the world at the end of 2018.
According to my own analysis, by 2030, the U.S. offshore wind industry will expend some $70 billion to build the wind farms to meet the states' commitment, providing good jobs for some 40,000 people.
We don't have any time to spare to usher in this economic and energy opportunity. Last month, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on oceans, ice and climate, and the news is grim.
All over the world, carbon pollution is making oceans more acidic and less oxygen-rich, while the warming temperatures are fundamentally changing ocean ecosystems. That means trouble for coastal fisheries, and the millions of people who rely on healthy fish populations for food. Meanwhile, rising sea levels are causing regular flooding in coastal communities, threatening clean water supplies and rusting away infrastructure.
Climate change is already costing coastal communities plenty, but fortunately, offshore wind can not only provide much-needed economic benefit but also play a crucial role as an emissions-free resource. In fact, the IPCC report explicitly says that ocean-based renewable energy sources, including offshore wind, can help address climate change and generate economic opportunities.
The climate benefits of offshore wind should be factored into any decision Congress makes on a potential tax credit extension package. Recent research from the Rhodium Group shows that extending the offshore wind investment tax credit through 2025 will help create more certainly in the market. This will allow the industry to invest in a strong domestic supply chain that will bring down costs and increase domestic manufacturing.
The offshore wind revolution will mean redevelopment of coastal communities and a reinvestment in neglected ports. Some communities have already experienced the benefits: New Bedford, a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in Massachusetts, has seen an increase in local jobs as it has strategically prepared to be a hub of operations for the industry. Block Island, the site of the country's first offshore wind farm, has seen a positive impact on tourism following construction.
A thriving offshore wind industry goes hand in hand with a thriving community on shore. Acknowledging that other users of the ocean are concerned about new large scale developments in the ocean, I am confident the offshore wind industry can proactively work together with other users, to identify solutions that keep these exciting projects moving forward.
A good model of cooperation is the Joint Industry Task Force run by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which exists to improve communication between the fishing industry and offshore wind energy developers. Another is the recently-founded Responsible Offshore Science Alliance which will work to increase data on fisheries and wind development to allow both industries to better understand the effects of wind on fisheries and ocean ecosystems.
The offshore wind sector is also proactively addressing the concerns of coastal communities with a forthcoming public participation guide that will give transparency and visibility into an otherwise overwhelming regulatory process.
The ocean has always been one of humanity's greatest resources, and most dangerous threats. With offshore wind, we can turn the power of the ocean from an existential risk to our coasts into an economic engine of health, clean energy and well-being. And it's already taking place, across the country and around the world.
The revolution is happening, one revolution at a time.