Friday, October 23, 2015

How Offshore Wind Can Beat Natural Gas in the U.S.

In this July 27, 2015, file photo, the first foundation jacket installed by Deepwater Wind in the nation's first offshore wind farm construction project is seen next to a construction crane on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, R.I. (Credit: AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File) Click to Enlarge.
New England is set to lose eight gigawatts of generating capacity from fossil fuels as aging power plants built in the 1950s and ‘60s retire and go offline.  This will create a vacuum that could be filled by Canadian hydropower, natural gas, or offshore wind.  Assuming that American utilities would rather build new sources of power in the United States than send their money to Canada, New Englanders will have two options.  On the one hand, they could fill the energy gap with wind power, which has historically earned resistance from even climate-conscious NIMBYists.  On the other hand, they could go with currently-cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas.

The decision is less obvious than one might think.

For as much as we hear about the untapped reserves of natural gas waiting to power our cities, it’s our abundant wind resources that should drive the conversation around clean energy.  Winds along the coasts of the United States could provide four times the energy needed to power the whole country.  And while wind still ranks among the costlier forms of power, in Europe — the world leader in offshore wind — prices have fallen markedly.  Said Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, “In the New England region, New York and even into New Jersey, building a new gas plant… is just about the same price as building a new offshore wind farm in Europe today.”

In the long term, natural gas can’t compete with offshore wind.  That’s because any new investment in natural gas has to be weighed against our climate goals.  If we are to keep global warming to less than 2ยบ C, we will have to abandon fossil fuels completely, and we will have to do so sooner rather than later.  That means that new gas power plants, new pipelines, and new drilling operations will likely come with an expiration date.  And when gas-fired power plants are closed down before they reach the end of their operating life, consumers will foot the bill.  Moreover, investing in 20th century fuels like natural gas will only slow the transition to 21st century energy, as wind and solar operators work to reach the economies of scale needed to further drive down the price of electricity.

In the short-term, natural gas still offers a more attractive option to utilities, which is why offshore wind firms are clamoring for regular tax credits and streamlined regulations to help them compete with fossil fuels.  The fledgling industry has the potential to generate thousands of new jobs, both for the engineers who design wind turbines and the men and women who build them.  According to the Department of Energy, erecting 54 gigawatts of capacity from offshore wind would create 43,000 permanent jobs.
Some lawmakers are trying to clear the way for offshore wind.  Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) have proposed an investment tax credit for offshore wind, which would give the industry the certainty it needs to plan ahead.

Read more at How Offshore Wind Can Beat Natural Gas in the U.S.

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