By Dorothy Davis
New career possibilities emerge as offshore wind developments are realized
Over the last five years, the wind industry has experienced a nearly seven-fold employment increase while establishing itself as a viable renewable energy resource within the United States. Along with growing public demand for green power and increasingly stringent emissions standards, the potential long-term economic benefits inherent in wind energy has become increasingly apparent, driving its development.
Along these lines, offshore wind power has come holds the potential to greatly contribute to the development of a diversified U.S. energy mix, offering significant environmental, demand and economic benefits.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that U.S. offshore winds have a gross potential generating capacity four times greater than the nation’s present electric capacity. While this estimate does not consider siting constraints and stakeholder inputs, it clearly indicates that the U.S. offshore wind capacity is not limited by the magnitude of the resource.
Although the U.S. currently leads the way in installed, onshore wind energy capacity, offshore wind development has not been on track to enjoy the same growth. Offshore wind farms have been operating successfully in European waters since 1991, yet the first commercial U.S. offshore wind turbine has yet to be installed.
That is finally about to change.
In April 2010, after being embroiled in a permitting process spanning more than nine years, the Cape Wind project off of the coast of Massachusetts was offered the first commercial lease for offshore wind development in the U.S. by the Department of Interior.
This regulatory milestone has set in motion an increased drive to open up other areas of development within the U.S., specifically the Atlantic coast region, the Great Lakes and Texas.
The U.S. government – now aiming to deploy up to 10-gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy capacity by 2020 – unveiled a coordinated strategic plan to accelerate offshore wind development in February 2011. By fast-tracking mid-Atlantic offshore wind projects and announcing $50.5 million in new funding from the Department of Energy, the U.S. government has embarked on a focused, aggressive campaign for offshore wind development.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in announcing the government’s major new offshore wind initiatives commented, "The mid-Atlantic Wind Energy Areas are a key part of our 'Smart from the Start' program for expediting appropriate commercial-scale wind energy development in America's waters."
Secretary Salazar continued, "Through the Strategic Work Plan, the United States is synchronizing new research and development initiatives with more efficient, forward-thinking planning so that we can help quickly stand up an American offshore wind industry. This initiative will spur the type of innovation that will help us create new jobs, build a clean energy future, and compete and win in the technologies of the 21st century."
According to a 2010 NREL study titled, Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States (LSOP), building 54 GW of offshore wind energy would generate an estimated $200 billion in new economic activity and create more than 43,000 permanent, well-paid jobs.
Pulling from European analysis, the NREL report outlined that offshore wind holds the potential to create more than 20 direct jobs for every megawatt produced in the U.S.
The NREL LSOP study focused on three primary aspects of offshore wind development – energy supply, the economy and the environment – assessing that developing U.S. offshore wind resources could help the nation to achieve 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030, revitalize its manufacturing sector, and provide clean power to its coastal demand centers.
Furthermore, high offshore winds in the coastal region tend to also be in proximity to large urban areas where power demand and rates are climbing, but space is limited, creating an ideal competitive market for the development of offshore wind generation.
A separate analysis of offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean, by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) found over 212 GW of wind energy potential residing in the shallow waters off the Atlantic coast. This is significant because close to 93 percent of offshore wind projects worldwide exist in shallow waters, and close to half of the shallow waters in the U.S. are along the Atlantic coast.
In promoting the development of offshore wind in the state of Maryland, Governor Martin O’Malley along with representatives of the Utility Workers Union of America AFL-CIO (UWUA) highlighted in a release associated with the NWF study that with no current manufacturing and deployment infrastructure for offshore wind in place on the U.S. East Coast, early establishment of manufacturing and training facilities could have a major impact on regional employment.
Stewart Acuff, Chief of Staff at the UWUA commented, "Offshore wind development presents a tremendous job creation opportunity for America.”
Acuff continued, “In these difficult economic times, offshore wind is perhaps the most promising game in town to grow quality, high-paying jobs here at home. Our members stand ready and willing to take advantage of these new jobs and help lead America in this exciting new direction."
The development of offshore wind also presents a tremendous opportunity for skilled laborers and professionals already trained in offshore operations to lend their expertise to this emerging sector of renewable energy. It also creates new revenue opportunities for companies already serving the offshore oil and gas industry.
Looking ahead, deepwater offshore wind developments will also play an important role. While current technology is best suited for shallow-water development, companies such as Statoil and Vestas are preparing for the future of offshore wind by working to develop projects integrating wind turbines with full-scale semisubmersible floating structures.
Whether shallow- or deepwater developments, offshore wind clearly holds tremendous economic and environmental benefits for the U.S. While challenges remain, real progress seems immanent as U.S. consumers, industry and government come to common ground on the long-term advantage of offshore renewable energy.
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