Legislature should commit to offshore wind power

Massachusetts can be national hub of new industry

THERE’S A CONVERSATION UNDERWAY right now on Beacon Hill that has the potential to unleash the next American energy revolution and create tens of thousands of jobs here in the Commonwealth and across the country. As communities up and down the eastern seaboard search for clean, reliable, and affordable sources of energy, offshore wind presents a unique value proposition: zero-emission electricity, close to population centers, negligible wildlife and natural resource impacts, energy when it is needed most, and substantial economic development and job creation opportunities. This session, state legislators have the opportunity to ensure that the epicenter of this next major energy industry grows right here in Massachusetts and spreads across the East Coast.

I was proud to join leaders of the booming global offshore wind industry gathering in Boston for the recent US Offshore Wind Leadership Summit. On the heels of this inspiring event, House Speaker Robert DeLeo voiced his support for offshore wind power to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and pledged to push for it as a key part of the Commonwealth’s energy strategy, emphasizing the local job creation potential available to the state that elects to be a first-mover. Massachusetts can be the national hub of a new industry that currently supports over 75,000 full-time jobs across a range of sectors in both coastal and inland communities across Europe.

The National Wildlife Federation is proud to support offshore wind power developed in a manner that protects coastal and marine wildlife and habitats throughout all stages of development. With strong environmental protections in place, wind power built far offshore is a responsible energy choice.  We have a world-class wind resource here in America that can deliver immense environmental and economic benefits, and now is the time to bring it online. To unleash the industry’s full potential, comprehensive energy legislation should commit Massachusetts to at least two gigawatts of offshore wind, just a fraction of the massive potential that sits over the horizon in already-leased areas far offshore.

Offshore wind power technology is proven, advanced, and increasingly cost-competitive with traditional energy sources. More than 3,000 offshore wind turbines are currently spinning overseas, the first of which was installed in 1991. Much like each new generation of microchips delivers better performance at a lower cost, each successive offshore wind project will become more efficient with the gains of greater scale, a more established supply chain, and lower-cost capital. And because offshore wind power is available at the times our grid is most challenged, it offers a critical opportunity to displace expensive and less efficient power plants on the system and buffer ratepayers against unpredictable price spikes.

While America currently lags far behind the rest of the world in embracing this massive clean energy source, last year marked a turning point. Installation of America’s first five offshore wind turbines finally began off the coast of Rhode Island, and construction is scheduled for completion this fall. The progress by the Ocean State is a shining example of what’s possible when people come together and commit to building clean energy for current and future generations. Massachusetts, with its marine industry assets and high-tech leadership, can stand up this industry and bring it to scale.

As the latest climate science makes increasingly clear, we have to act. First 2014 set a new mark for the hottest year on record, then 2015 immediately shattered that. Our generation’s conservation legacy will be defined right now by whether we meet our stewardship responsibilities to safeguard imperiled wildlife, protect natural resources, preserve outdoor experiences, and mitigate climate impacts.

Meet the Author

Collin O'Mara

President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation
Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed a bipartisan Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future which stated that “by deploying renewable, cleaner and more efficient energy solutions, we can make our national economy more productive and resilient.” Offshore wind must be a significant part of this future. We can’t build the vibrant economy of tomorrow with the energy sources of the past. If we make the decisions now to launch the next American energy revolution here in Massachusetts by harnessing clean, wildlife-friendly offshore wind with made-in-America technology, we will reap the economic and environmental benefits for generations to come.

Collin O’Mara is president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation.