By Joni Sliger, Policy Extern
As a policy extern
with GEI, I am very interested in researching Oregon’s policies and
possibilities for a renewable energy future. After all, state energy policies
are what first piqued my interest in the field of energy law.
|Credit: Siemens AG and NREL|
While studying Global Environmental Change & Sustainability at Johns Hopkins University, I got involved with a campaign to amend Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to add offshore wind energy. The campaign brought together labor unions interested in wind turbine manufacturing jobs, public health groups interested in transitioning Maryland (and Baltimore especially) off asthma-inducing fossil fuels, and students and environmentalists like myself interested in ensuring a sustainable energy future without volatile fuel prices and without huge greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the campaign did not succeed before I graduated in 2012. However, the following term, the legislature finally passed a law to amend the RPS.
Most RPSs require utilities to obtain a certain percentage of retail electricity sales from eligible renewable energy sources. Instead of merely adding offshore wind energy to the list of eligible resources, Maryland’s Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 created what is known as a “carve-out.” The carve-out requires that, within the percentage from renewables mandated by the RPS, a certain percentage must come specifically from offshore wind energy, beginning in 2017.
While an RPS provides investors with the certainty that a market exists for renewable energy, an RPS carve-out provides even greater certainty for a particular type of power. That is critically important for an emerging technology like offshore wind. At least, the technology is still emerging in the United States; Europe, in contrast, has already invested in offshore wind energy projects with a combined capacity of 8,000 megawatts, according to 2014 data from the European Wind Energy Association. Meanwhile, the very first offshore wind farm in the U.S.—Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island—began construction just this past July. While the U.S. farm is not yet operational, wind enthusiasts like myself can still celebrate the construction as a sign of progress.
Some scientists has referred to offshore wind energy as a “missed opportunity” for the United States. But the opportunity has not passed. Offshore wind is coming. There have been growing pains, but as highlighted by last week’s Summit on Offshore Wind Energy, the White House is looking to streamline the permitting process. In its press release, the White House announced the creation of an Interagency Working Group on Offshore Wind to coordinate the permitting process. The Summit also announced the funding of a multi-state project in the Northeast, the creation of an International Offshore Wind Regulators Forum to learn from experiences abroad, and the recent approval of two more areas for leasing to developers.
The United States might be late to the offshore wind party, but the possibilities are strong. The Department of Energy says the nation could obtain 86,000 MW from offshore wind by 2050. Last week, the American Wind Energy Association hosted a conference on Offshore Wind in Baltimore, Maryland. The event brought together industry leaders that are optimistic about offshore development. After all, plans are underway to build a 500 MW farm off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. Maryland’s amended RPS was a major incentive for this project; the developers will be applying for the offshore energy credits this month.
I am thrilled to see offshore wind energy finally taking off in the U.S. Obtaining permits and financing may have slowed the industry’s development, but those obstacles have not stopped it. We need this renewable energy, and we are on our way to getting it. “Wind is here,” noted one commentator, “and [so is] the ripple effect.”