Offshore wind projects have taken root in America. The country’s first operating offshore wind farm, in Block Island, Rhode Island, began contributing energy to the power grid in December 2016. Now, more than 23 offshore wind projects — collectively expected to produce 16,000 MW of power — reportedly are being planned. Thus, opportunities abound for developers, contractors, and investors in the U.S. offshore wind market.
The recent spike in offshore wind activity has been fueled largely by a surge of political interest. Some critics have decried President Trump’s apparent lack of commitment to renewable energy, but the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has proved to be a willing partner in offshore wind energy development. In March 2017, DOI leased 122,000 acres off the coast of northern California to Avangrid, a subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish company. Recently, DOI also finalized a lease with a Norwegian company, Statoil, for Long Island, New York waters. DOI evidently sees a future for U.S. offshore wind. According to a spokesperson, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management currently is receiving annual rent payments of over $4 million for offshore wind project leases.
State activities also have primed the pump for offshore wind development. In August 2016, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a law requiring utilities to procure 1,600 MW of electricity from offshore wind facilities by 2026. In May 2017, the Commonwealth’s Department of Energy Resources issued a request for proposals to develop up to 800 MW of offshore wind. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would commit to installing 2,400 MW of offshore wind by 2030, furthering his goal that renewable energy resources would supply 50% of New York’s power. To that end, in January 2017, Governor Cuomo approved Deepwater Wind’s 90 MW, 15 turbine South Fork Wind Farm project, which is expected to power 50,000 Long Island homes.
Moreover, the Maryland Public Service Commission recently awarded two developers, U.S. Wind and Skipjack Offshore Energy, contracts to build offshore wind farms totaling 368 MW. The projects are expected to create 9,700 new direct and indirect jobs.
With each completed project the supply chain grows stronger and developers become more efficient, making each successive project more cost-effective. For example, the estimated total cost of the South Fork project already has decreased 25% since Deepwater Wind’s first projections, and the energy generated is expected to cost 30% less per unit than at Block Island. Furthermore, the Department of Energy predicts that the cost of offshore wind energy will fall 43% by 2030. As this trend continues, there will be greater incentives to promote offshore wind as a clean energy resource.
Also, each successful project increases investor confidence. Deepwater Wind, developing its second offshore wind project, is owned by D.E. Shaw, a hedge fund and private equity firm managing over $40 billion in assets. Moreover, both Citigroup and HSBC have expressed interest in financing future offshore wind projects.
The U.S. offshore wind market is growing rapidly and approaching maturity. State and federal government actions appear to support a long-term horizon for offshore wind development. With every completed project, production and financing costs will continue to drop, the market will grow, and new jobs will emerge. The question now is whether the players in the renewable energy market — developers, investors, contractors, and vendors — are well-positioned to reap the rewards of this burgeoning industry.