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Offshore Wind Is a Viable Economic Model

The United States should follow the model of numerous other countries and continue to advance our offshore wind industry.

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2011 was pretty good for advancing the U.S. offshore wind industry in many ways. The Cape Wind project proposed for the waters off Massachusetts received its final permits from the Department of the Interior, theoretically paving the way to begin construction on America’s first offshore wind farm. The Obama administration advanced its “Smart from the Start” initiative, designating wind energy areas off the coasts of five Atlantic coast states, and it is actively pursuing leases with potential developers. And projects in state waters off New Jersey, Texas, and Ohio took important steps and cleared hurdles in the planning and permitting stages.

Unfortunately, as has been the case throughout the history of offshore wind in this country, it soon became another example of three steps forward, two steps back. Less than a month after Interior gave Cape Wind the green light, the Department of Energy informed the company it would not be eligible for a loan guarantee. Then, in the waning days of the year, another offshore wind pioneer, NRG Bluewater Wind, announced that it would back out of a three-year-old power-purchase agreement with Delmarva Power because it couldn’t generate sufficient investor interest.

Meanwhile, developers in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Spain, France, Norway, China, South Korea, and other countries are proving that offshore wind is a viable economic model. They have permitted more than 40,000 MW of offshore wind energy capacity. The United States has only issued permits for 488 MW. (see table)

Not only does this delay reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and our transition to renewable energy sources, but it also prevents American innovators from taking advantage of the design, manufacturing, and construction jobs that go along with it. In Europe, where more than 4,000 MW of offshore wind capacity is already installed, developers expect to create 169,000 jobs by 2020 and 300,000 by 2030.

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