By Catherine Bowes

Growing up on the coast of Massachusetts, I have been in awe of the power of the ocean as long as I can remember. Endless days on the beach, countless adventures offshore, truly amazing migrations of birds and whales, and feasts of fresh seafood are among the many contributions the ocean makes to our culture and way of life in the commonwealth. The ocean is inextricably linked to our economy and it is in this proud tradition that we are now embarking on a new chapter in this story: offshore wind power.

As leaders across all sectors come together to provide reliable and affordable energy, grow jobs and our economy, and confront climate change, the ocean once again has a valuable role to play in helping us meet the most pressing challenges facing Massachusetts and the nation.

Thanks to the vision and leadership of Gov. Charlie Baker, Massachusetts’ Legislature, community leaders, and the commonwealth’s many engaged stakeholders, we are now poised to lead America’s pursuit of a major new clean energy industry. New Bedford, the “city that lit the world” as the hub of the 19th century whaling industry, has access to a similarly historic opportunity today, one that could light up the region by tapping into the limitless, powerful winds offshore. Offshore wind power can reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels, create thousands of local jobs, and, when developed responsibly, provide great benefits to coastal and marine wildlife already being affected by climate change.

The benefits of creating a more diverse, clean, and local energy portfolio are many, including more stable electric rates, increased economic development opportunities, and cleaner air and water, just to name a few. However right now, New England is heavily dependent on just two energy sources, getting the vast majority of our electricity on any given day from imported natural gas and aging coal and nuclear power plants (many of which are on track for retirement). There is no better time to start a new clean energy chapter that can tap into the world-class wind resource available far off our shores and power millions of homes and businesses across the region.

Offshore wind power is not new; but this proven technology is just now reaching American shores. For over 25 years, this industry has been advancing overseas, with over 3,500 wind turbines installed offshore around the world and countries across Europe and Asia rapidly mobilizing to ramp up offshore wind development. Global investment in this booming industry is increasing considerably, with a near-quadrupling expected over the next few years as investments soar well over $100 billion by 2020. Offshore wind power has recently achieved impressive advancements in both technology efficiencies and cost reductions across the sector. As the industry matures, offshore wind power is becoming an increasingly cost-competitive energy option with record-low prices already available in the European market. This is the golden opportunity available to us, now that our leaders are beginning to make similar commitments to scale up offshore wind power on this side of the Atlantic.

Massachusetts is right at the forefront of the development of a U.S. offshore wind industry. Last summer, the commonwealth took a historic step forward by passing the largest state commitment to date with a 1,600 megawatt (MW) policy, enough to power over half a million homes. Building on this momentum, this January, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed the state to developing 2,400 MW of offshore wind power. Projects to achieve both of these state goals will be built far off the coast of southern New England, in areas of federal waters already leased or designated for offshore wind development.

This unprecedented momentum in the development of a U.S. offshore wind market is clearly great news for jobs and the economy of our region. The commonwealth is poised to become a regional hub for this new industry, thanks to the leadership of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in advancing the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal and other critical initiatives to maximize local workforce opportunities. But there is much hard work ahead to ensure we meet, and exceed, our current offshore wind goals in order to fully realize the potential of the golden opportunity far off our shores.

As this technology comes to scale, it must be developed carefully with an eye toward ensuring protection of our treasured coastal and marine wildlife. The offshore wind industry will only be successful in America if it is developed responsibly, with the highest standards of planning, stakeholder engagement, and environmental protection guiding the process. Of particular importance is ensuring strong protections for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a species that frequents the waters off of New England and could be impacted by offshore wind development activities. In the last few weeks, record numbers of right whales have been spotted in Cape Cod Bay, providing an important reminder of the significance of these waters to the whales at this time of year. National Wildlife Federation and our partners are following this issue very closely, collaborating with wildlife experts, industry leaders, and regulators to chart a path forward for offshore wind power that provides sufficient protections for right whales.

America’s first offshore wind project, the Block Island Wind Farm now online off the coast of Rhode Island, has set a strong precedent for right whale protection and offshore wind development. Project developer Deepwater Wind worked with environmentalists to adjust their construction schedule to avoid times of greatest concern for right whales and implement a set of additional protective measures throughout the construction process. Looking forward, it is critical that the latest science and planning guide all offshore wind development activities, and the success of America’s pioneer project has created a shining example of how to do this right that must be repeated up and down the coast.

As we write this new chapter of Massachusetts’ history, I am confident that one day we will look back on this moment with great pride as a time when leaders across all sectors took the bold, visionary actions necessary to launch a new American industry, create thousands of jobs and advance a critical climate change solution. I envision my daughter, just like myself as a child, enjoying everything the ocean has to offer while knowing that far over the horizon, there is an amazing clean energy source now helping to light the world.

Catherine Bowes, a native of Duxbury, is a senior manager in National Wildlife Federation’s Climate and Energy program.

In the news:

Amber Hewett • April 30, 2017