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A Lofty Future for Wind Energy, but State Goals Are No Breeze

Business matters aside, the future is generally bright for offshore wind, leaders said at the 2024 International Partnering Forum for industry. Increasing state energy targets, however, present a stiff challenge.

an aerial view of offshore windmills
Tom Buysse/Shutterstock
Supply chain bottlenecks and rising interest rates aside, offshore wind industry officials remain bullish about the future of green energy technology.

“The days of talking about ‘if’ and ‘when’ are over. From this day forward, the discussion is centered on how fast, and how much can we build,” said Liz Burdock, president and CEO of the Oceantic Network, in opening remarks Thursday at the 2024 International Partnering Forum in New Orleans.

The offshore wind energy conference convenes industry representatives from around the globe with public officials to plot the future of wind energy. This involves innovation around technology, public permitting and workforce development, as the country and world move energy production, transportation and other sectors off fossil fuels — seen as an essential step to slow the impacts of human-caused climate change.

“By the end of 2024 we anticipate 60 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity leased, and 14 gigawatts fully permitted,” said Burdock.

Challenges, particularly in the supply chain, and around rising interest rates which hamper innovation investments, have held back some projects. But these slowdowns, said Doreen M. Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, should not blunt the forward pace of the green energy economy.

“Now is not the time to be complacent, or wait it out, or hope these challenges will go away, or hope that someone else will find the answer. Now is the time to strategize, to be nimble, be thoughtful. And most importantly, to act swiftly,” Harris, told the conference. “That is exactly what the state of New York is doing.”

In February, New York greenlighted two offshore wind projects: Empire Wind 1 and Sunrise Wind, both due to come online in 2026. The projects total 1,700 megawatts of power, or about 10 percent of the electricity needs of New York City and Long Island. Other projects, like the South Fork Wind farm off the coast of New York, and Vineyard Wind off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, are complete.

The East Coast is ideal for the production of offshore wind power, said Tricia Jedele, an attorney and environmental leader, as the Atlantic Coast offshore wind policy manager for the Nature Conservancy — in part because the winds off the Atlantic coast are stronger “really than any other place in the world.”

“And interestingly, they happen to be strongest in the winter when high energy demand centers will need this energy most for home heating,” Jedele said during an offshore wind power panel Feb. 29. The panel was organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, as part of its “Climate Conversations.”

More recent, heightened renewable energy goals feed demand to develop offshore wind in these areas — but the Atlantic coast is densely populated, Jedele said, “and we just don’t have the space for the kind of terrestrial renewable energy that we’re going to need to meet our decarbonization targets.”

New York is among the states with increasing renewable energy targets. It has goals of 70 percent renewably sourced electricity by 2030, and a zero-emission electric grid by 2040.

In cases like these, Jedele said, state goals are “really outpacing the federal goals,” and most decarbonization strategies have concluded these goals could not be met without offshore wind energy.

New York is involved in developing a second offshore wind master plan covering 36,000 square miles, Harris said.

The 9 gigawatts of offshore wind power generated by South Fork Wind “is certainly a floor and not a ceiling,” she said. “I know in this current environment there may be some second-guessing about where we are heading, even among some of us who have been the biggest advocates and cheerleaders of this industry.”

But, said Harris, “Even in the face of these hurdles, a clean energy future is possible, and within reach.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.