Several speakers at the recent American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference in New Orleans lauded the positive impact of Congress's extensions of the production tax credit (PTC) and investment tax credit (ITC) in December 2015. As they noted, these extensions position wind energy for a period of unprecedented stability and growth—at least for the onshore wind sector.
Offshore wind has tremendous potential in the United States, but unlike the onshore wind sector, offshore still has a long way to go to reach critical mass. The recent PTC/ITC extensions ramp down by the early 2020s. As a result, only a few early offshore projects are likely to be far enough along to benefit from the PTC/ITC extensions. Absent a further tax incentive specifically directed to offshore wind, as recently proposed by Senators Markey (D-Mass) and Whitehouse (D-RI), offshore wind will continue to rely on state-level policies to build out the necessary supply chain.
Where will U.S. offshore wind find support to attain critical mass? Here are six major areas of recent progress:
1. Massachusetts Offtake Legislation
Massachusetts lawmakers recently introduced an omnibus bill, H.4336, which could spur as much as $10 billion of investment in offshore wind, according to Bloomberg. Several major Massachusetts projects could benefit, including those of DONG Energy, D.E. Shaw-backed Deepwater Wind and Blackstone-backed OffshoreMW. The bill would impose offshore wind energy procurement requirements on Massachusetts utilities, thereby ensuring guaranteed power sales and long-term revenues. In its current form, H.4336 would require utilities to purchase 1,200 megawatts of offshore wind, although industry proponents are pushing for a 2,000 megawatt commitment. Governor Baker is expected to support enactment of the bill although final details remain in play, particularly with regard to the balance between offshore wind and competing proposals to source clean energy from Canadian hydropower.
2. New York Renewables Standard and Proposed Lease Sale
Offshore wind should receive a major boost from Governor Cuomo’s Clean Energy Standard goal of 50% renewable generation by 2030. As Richard Kauffman, the state’s Chairman of Energy & Finance, has observed, New York is not going to meet that goal without offshore wind. Offshore developers and supply chain participants have heeded the call and are already mobilizing in anticipation of an offshore wind market centered in Long Island.
Long Island is a prime target for offshore wind developers. The wind resource is ample and the service territory massive (approximately 1.1 million people). In addition, the existing transmission infrastructure is constrained and the island’s geography is such that it would be difficult to construct new transmission lines. New lines would also likely become a rate-based asset, the costs of which would be passed along to the retail customer. Offshore wind could meet the island’s demand closer to the load reducing the need for new long-distance transmission lines coming from the mainland. Additionally, the price of power in Long Island and New York is generally expensive in comparison to the rest of the country, allowing developers room to benefit from higher competitive pricing.
On June 2, 2016, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced the proposed lease sale of over 81,000 acres for development approximately 11 miles south of Long Island. The proposed lease area was identified in March 2016 by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) as a wind energy development area in response to an unsolicited proposal by the New York Power Authority to construct a potentially 700 megawatt installation. BOEM expects to issue its proposed sale notice soon, which will be subject to a 60-day public comment period. Additionally, there will be an associated environmental assessment and a 30-day comment period.
3. New Jersey Anticipating Post-Christie Policy Support
New Jersey is entering its gubernatorial election cycle, and offshore wind proponents are eagerly awaiting the next administration. Outgoing Governor Chris Christie recently vetoed legislation that would allow the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to approve qualified offshore wind projects and offer a 30-day window for developers to submit applications. The bill would have revived the 25 megawatt proposed Fishermen’s Energy project off the coast of Atlantic City, which was previously denied by the BPU. Fishermen’s Energy has garnered federal support and is eligible to obtain a nearly $50 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE). Fishermen’s and other offshore proponents expect legislative efforts will ultimately succeed under a supportive state executive.
4. Steady Progress for Maryland
Maryland has been supporting offshore wind since 2013 when Governor Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act. This legislation allows for the creation of credits to support wind projects 10 or more miles off the coast. The credits will act as fiscal mechanism in place to pay for at least some of the electricity generated from projected wind farms. Recently, US Wind procured federal leases to support approximately $2.3 billion in project development slated to start in 2017.
5. Industry Cooperation and Advocacy
In the last year activities of offshore sector groups and developers have picked up the pace in advocating for helpful state policies, coordinating strategies, and developing the supply chain. Offshore Wind Massachusetts and the Business Network for Offshore Wind have been central to the sector’s organizing efforts, supported by lobbying of several dozen other groups and companies. The entry of European heavyweight DONG Energy has been a major catalyst in moving the field forward not only in Massachusetts, but also elsewhere along the Eastern Seaboard, including New Jersey, where it recently acquired RES America's 160,480 acre lease area. DONG has been very active and successful in working with state policymakers.
6. Federal Activities and Preparing for the Next Administration
DOI and BOEM are pushing forward with ocean area wind leasing, environmental analysis and streamlined permitting. The Obama Administration has been generally supportive of offshore wind, but has not launched any major support at the federal level. The outcome of the upcoming presidential election obviously will be critical for offshore wind. Donald Trump is on record as a virulent opponent of offshore wind and has embraced a fossil-focused energy policy. By contrast, a Clinton Administration in 2017 could be fertile ground for executive actions seeking to accelerate progress in the industry. Offshore wind participants should begin organizing now to present transition materials and advocate for inclusion in first 100 days initiatives.