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The power of wind

Source: 
Daily Hampshire Gazette

In the past decade, the use of wind power in the U.S. has more than tripled, making it the largest source of domestically generated renewable energy.

While onshore wind capacity continues to grow rapidly, generating around 7% of the country’s electricity, the U.S. also has incredible untapped potential for offshore wind. Offshore wind turbines are larger than land-based ones and can generate more energy. Due to strong, consistent winds off the East Coast, the U.S. coastline has an offshore wind potential equaling more than twice the amount of the nation’s current electricity usage.

Developing the U.S. offshore wind industry would have huge ramifications for emissions reductions, and be an incredible positive in the fight against climate change.

The industry is in the early development stages, and no major offshore wind farms currently exist in the U.S. The Vineyard Wind project, located 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and currently under development, aims to be the nation’s first utility-scale wind farm.

Because of Vineyard Wind, Massachusetts has an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way in the development of offshore wind and cement its status as a national clean energy leader. The development of Vineyard Wind will blaze a trail for the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry, bringing numerous benefits to the commonwealth and the country.

As the first project of its kind, Vineyard Wind has faced numerous regulatory hurdles. The original timetable for the project had construction beginning in late 2019, with the facility becoming operational by 2022. However, due to multiple unexpected delays in the federal permitting process, a final approval decision is not expected until December, delaying the start of construction until at least 2021.

The recent release of a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a positive sign for progress on the project, detailing the projected impacts of Vineyard Wind and numerous potential offshore projects on marine life and ocean industries. These delays have brought increased costs, but the developers of Vineyard Wind have confirmed that they are dedicated to completing the project given regulatory approval.

The development of Vineyard Wind would be a resounding success for the commonwealth. The project would produce enough energy to power over 400,000 Massachusetts homes, reducing the commonwealth’s carbon dioxide emissions by over 1.6 million metric tons annually. The emissions reduction is the equivalent of removing 325,000 cars from the road, and would also result in energy-related cost savings of over $1.4 billion.

In addition to the direct energy impacts and cost savings, the project comes with a $15 million commitment from Vineyard Wind to develop the offshore wind industry in southeastern Massachusetts. These funds would be directed toward enhancing protections for marine mammals, creating a workforce training program to provide careers in the commonwealth’s new offshore wind industry and supporting the development of additional offshore wind facilities in the state.

These commitments would help Massachusetts become a national leader for offshore wind, boosting the economy and further reducing emissions as more facilities come online.

Public comment has been largely positive, and according to the EIS the long-term negative impacts of the project would be minimal. The project has received strong support from Gov. Charlie Baker, and the development of alternative clean energy sources is crucial to ensuring that the commonwealth reaches the ambitious emissions reductions targets set by the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Any Massachusetts resident who wants the state to lead the way on fighting climate change should embrace the opportunity provided by the development of Vineyard Wind.

Vineyard Wind would also blaze a trail for offshore wind development in New England and the rest of the East Coast. There are currently over a dozen commercial leases for offshore wind development on the East Coast, and the successful development of Vineyard Wind has the potential to kick-start a period of even greater growth in the sector.

Anyone passionate about clean energy development, job creation, and fighting climate change should be incredibly excited about the development of Vineyard Wind and hope that it receives federal approval later this year. Allie McCandless is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is an activist with the American Conservation Coalition.

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