You know that feeling – equal parts daunting and exhilarating – that you get when you see or meet the champions of your cause, the experts of your favorite field? Just returning from a two day dose of that feeling, I think I’ll be riding this inspiration for quite some time. Every year, the rock stars, the leaders, the pioneers of the American offshore wind power initiative gather in one place for two full days of reflecting, celebrating, brainstorming, and goal setting. This year, the American Wind Energy Association’s Offshore WINDPOWER Conference and Exposition descended on Providence, Rhode Island and set sights high for the year ahead.
Tuesday’s opening session consisted of remarks from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who met a crowd appreciative of how she has honored the groundwork Secretary Salazar laid before her, continuing to make the Interior Department one of strong leadership for offshore wind power. She was joined by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan, and those at the helms of two projects – one in each state – both vying to be the nation’s first. The speakers patted backs, prodded at competition, and most importantly, raised the bar.
A Lingering Reminder of Urgency
Our reliance on dirty energy is dangerous, for our environment, our public health, for wildlife, and for future generations. It is also horribly expensive. Hurricane Sandy inflicted $70 billion of damages – not to mention the economic activity lost while communities recovered. NWF Senior Manager Catherine Bowes presented on a panel Tuesday afternoon, titled “The Business Case for Offshore Wind: Demonstrating the Net Benefits.” She and her co-panelists highlighted that by quantifying the true economic benefits of offshore wind development – the long-term job creation, the displacement of the costly damages of traditional energy sources, that offshore wind power is strongest when we need it most, and that it reduces the high price of congestion – the numbers fall in favor of the wind.
Despite the excitement surrounding the year’s accomplishments, the rounds of applause, the shared gratitude for twelve months of hard work across industry, advocacy, and public sectors, the big questions remain unanswered: Who will install the first project and where will it happen? The events and discussions that followed the opening panel all carried the same determination to answer these questions and to accelerate past them, ensuring that no matter which U.S. offshore wind farm is first, it is the first of many.
Next year’s conference will be in Atlantic City, NJ. What an appropriate setting for what ought to be American offshore wind power’s greatest party yet. If everyone brings their best between now and then, we could finally be harnessing the winds off our shores and be cruising forward with our sights set higher than ever before. Everyone has a role to play in making this the year that we clear the most anticipated hurdle, and it starts now. Congress is dangerously close to letting a critical investment tax credit for offshore wind expire at the end of the year. Secretary Jewell reminded us at the end of her remarks that “there isn’t an energy industry in the country that doesn’t continue to get incentives.” We certainly cannot let offshore wind power be the exception.
We have a lot to accomplish this year. Let’s outdo ourselves.