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Opinion: Offshore wind is about to change the way we get electricity, giving us cleaner air, thousands of jobs and — yes — cheaper power

Posted on March 11, 2024

The single biggest indicator that offshore wind is about to revolutionize how we produce electricity may just be the increasingly desperate attacks from the gas, oil and coal industries.

Over the last year fossil fuel companies and their allies have dramatically stepped up a misinformation campaign blaming whale deaths on offshore wind turbines — a campaign widely discredited by scientists and with no basis in fact. Now, in the coming months, expect the same organized disinformation to come after offshore wind on a different front — its alleged cost — and for the same reason: Because offshore wind is rapidly ramping up to replace burning fossil fuels as the way we make electricity.

Vineyard Wind is providing clean power to 30,000 Massachusetts homes, the first step in a massive project that will generate 806 megawatts of electricity powering more than 400,000 homes. Massachusetts energy officials say that when completed the project will create 3,600 full-time jobs and cut carbon emissions by 1.6 million tons a year — the same as taking 325,000 cars off the road.

And the cost? The state estimates that over the next 20 years Vineyard Wind will save electricity customers $1.4 billion dollars.

Vineyard Wind is just the first in a series of major offshore wind projects either already operating or about to get underway off the East Coast. South Fork Wind has begun providing its first power to New York and when complete will generate 130 megawatts of clean wind energy to power approximately 70,000 Long Island homes. Off Rhode Island and Connecticut, Revolution Wind has received final approval for a 704-megawatt turbine field that will deliver 400 megawatts of clean power to Rhode Island and 304 megawatts to Connecticut, powering more than 350,000 homes.

What may constitute the most important single stride yet toward a future powered by wind is only a few weeks away. In October, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island announced the first-in-the-nation offshore wind multi-state agreement to solicit up to 7,000 megawatts of electricity from projects on millions of acres of ocean off the coast of the three states. Bids are due by March 27. Meanwhile, the federal government has identified parcels in the Gulf of Maine for potential offshore wind development. The State of Maine has worked hard to push the federal government to avoid areas where the lobster industry would be affected and has identified a site for a state-of-the-art port facility to construct and service the project that will add long-term permanent jobs in the region.

Already, fossil fuel-funded opponents of offshore wind are gearing up to kill these projects by attacking them as far too expensive to build and predicting as a result enormous unaffordable electricity costs.

Make no mistake: The per-kilowatt costs of these new projects are almost certain to be higher than for Vineyard Wind, Revolution or South Fork. In the years since those projects were bid on, construction and labor costs have risen dramatically economy-wide, and Massachusetts has removed power price ceilings that developers determined made project construction unviable. Those changes mean the bid prices that developers submit in response to the tri-state project solicitation, which will be released late in the year, will be higher than what came before. That will trigger a tsunami of speculation that offshore wind is not viable. Don’t believe it.

Groups like the Manhattan Institute, which is funded by oil companies, have stepped up efforts to slam offshore wind on cost. But those opponents know that as the wind industry grows, technological improvements and cost savings resulting from rapidly expanding supply chains will lead to cheaper electricity prices. Additionally, any comparison of energy costs between fossil fuels and renewables needs to include factors beyond how much is paid per kilowatt hour.

When you hear fossil fuel advocates say wind is too expensive, do the math. The cost of generating power from gas, coal or oil doesn’t just include the price of the fuel, but also includes the terrible toll of climate change, the millions of deaths caused by air pollution, the toxins and illness produced by refineries, as well as the enormous costs of gas leaks, oil spills and coal runoff. Then factor in the dramatic swings in price for fossil fuels caused by war and geopolitics. Finally, compute the most important cost factor of all: Each unit of wind, unlike gas, coal and oil, is free.

Once projects like Vineyard Wind, Revolution and South Fork are finished and their electricity flows to the Northeast power grids, that power won’t require mining, pumping or fracking. And that electricity won’t require expensive and dangerous refining, trucking or shipping. That power won’t be dependent on obtaining fuels from other countries or be at the whim of geopolitical mayhem and price volatility. And millions of tons of carbon won’t be pumped into the air, warming our planet, melting our ice and raising our seas. All of that is priceless.


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