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US Must Act Now on Offshore Wind to Advance Industry, Revitalize Communities

The U.S. Atlantic coast is a hotbed of offshore wind potential with more than 16,000 MW already designated for development. In order for projects to become reality, state and local governments need to take action, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).

As Cape Wind enters its final stretch with a crucial $150 million US Department of Energy loan guarantee after years of fighting roadblocks, and with the Block Island Wind Farm right on its heels, state governments and big companies are finally starting to take the U.S. offshore wind industry seriously. Several offshore wind leases that took place off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia have also helped move the industry forward.

In Virginia, Dominion Virginia Power was declared the winner with a $1.6 million bid for 112,000 acres. The area has the potential to create more than 2 GW of wind power capacity. Deepwater Wind, which is already developing the Block Island project, won two parcels of land off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts amounting to 164,000 acres and a 3.4-GW potential. Now that permits and leases of more than 1.5 million acres of prime land have been distributed, NWF says its time for political leaders to catch up. 

Not only is offshore wind a clean, renewable resource that can help reduce carbon per Obama’s recently announced emissions reduction plan, it can replace power from fossil-fueled power plants that are set to close in the area, such as Brayton Point in Massachusetts, scheduled to shutter in 2017. While these factors may be enough for some, the benefit that has really caught the attention of some local politicians can truly transform entire communities is jobs. 

In releasing its new report, NWF traveled to New Bedford, a coastal city in Southeastern Massachusetts. With a thriving fishing industry and ideal port location, New Bedford is looking to revitalize its depressed community by becoming an offshore wind distribution hub.

With Mayor Jon Mitchell on board, NWF took a boat to the site of New Bedford’s nearly complete offshore wind terminal. Here, the $100 million project will be equipped to assemble offshore turbines and ship them to development sites — Cape Wind has already agreed to use the port. Once complete in December 2014, just in time for Cape Wind’s scheduled construction in mid-2015, it will be the largest marine commerce terminal in the nation, and the first dedicated to offshore wind. 

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and NWF's Catherine Bowes tour the nearly complete offshore wind port facility.

“New Bedford is uniquely poised to take advantage of the promise of this industry. It has long been the largest commercial fishing port in America, so we have a workforce that knows what it is doing out at sea and a tremendous infrastructure,” said Mitchell. “New Bedford also happens to be one of the closest industrial ports to some of the richest offshore wind grounds in North America. Roughly 25 percent of the nation’s wind reserves lie south of Martha’s Vineyard, and we’re the closest."

Mitchell hopes to establish a bustling offshore wind industry in the city, gleaning from similar experiences in the once-depressed German cities of Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven, which he visited with several other city officials in 2013. The German ports have gained thousands of jobs since their inception, and Mitchell hopes New Bedford will experience the same growth.

“We have established a clean energy center in order to grow a competence in this industry at the municipal level so the industry can come here and put down roots. It’s not just folks who assemble the wind turbines, but also the supply chain and the operations and maintenance aspects of the industry as well,” said Mitchell. “In New Bedford it is all about creating jobs. We had an industrial past that has waned over the years, and we see offshore wind as an opportunity…to rebuild our economic base.” 

New Bedford's offshore wind marine terminal is under construction, and set to be complete in December 2014.

Several manufacturers, including Siemens and Iberdrola, are even reportedly considering building manufacturing facilities along the east coast. But before these companies can truly set down roots and cities like New Bedford can declare success, NWF says that the U.S. needs a reliable project pipeline. This pipeline can be established with: 

“It’s a critical moment for our state leaders to seize this opportunity and create a clean energy future powered by an American workgroup that protects our wildlife community from the dangers of climate change,” said Catherine Bowes, senior manager for climate and energy at the National Wildlife Federation.

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As associate editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com, I coordinate and edit feature stories, contributed articles, news stories, opinion pieces and blogs. I also research and write content for RenewableEnergyWorld.com and REW magazine. I manage REW.com...

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