December 18, 2021

By Ramona du Houx

Dr. Dagher’s design – the VolturnUS – the first floating offshore wind turbine in American waters that transmitted energy into the grid. The revolutionary design came from the University of Maine Composite laboratory research.

Without immediate action much of New York’s coastline will be lost under a projected 8 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century, along with the homes and livelihoods of potentially millions. Those seas will also on the rise in Maine. The Back Cove in Portland floods regularly as well as large sections on Coastal Route 1. The sea level off Maine’s coast is 8 inches higher than it was in 1950, mostly due to due to changes in ocean circulation and ice melt. Already over 11,944 properties at risk from tidal flooding. Maine currently has estimates for over $100 million in sea level rise solutions, which include beach renourishment, raising roads, and stormwater management.

As the lobster fishery retreats ever northward from the heating of the seas, the shrimp industry has been halted because of the same warming. For the past two years, Maine has suffered from spring to summer droughts, hurting the growing season. The state’s iconic wild Maine blueberries are at risk, along with the tourist industry.

On December 8, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) New York announced that over 100 New York elected officials have signed a letter urging and supporting the responsible buildout of offshore wind. Collectively these elected officials want to see the responsible development of offshore wind to protect New York from the worst impacts of the climate crisis, create jobs, and lead America’s clean energy economy. Importantly they said at their virtual press conference that the buildout would help environmental justice.

Elected Officials to Protect America from Maine ask why is the state not taking more aggressive actions to develop offshore wind here, especially since the University of Maine’s Composite Center has patented and tested the only floating offshore wind turbine, the VolturnUS, in the Americas. The Atlantic Seaboard alone has the potential to produce more than four times our current energy demand, and almost double the projected demand in 2050.

“The VolturnUS technology could be a game changer worldwide,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, former Maine State Representative, President of Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA). “Floating wind turbine technology allows deep sea positioning of wind farms in Federal waters, protecting lobster fishing grounds. Dr. Dagher and his UMaine team are putting Maine on the map. We need to help them develop offshore wind in the state more, so all Mainers can benefit from the clean energy source with lower electric bills, and transitioning off of fossil fuels.”

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that U.S. offshore wind resources could provide over 2,000 gigawatts of generating capacity— nearly twice as much electricity as the nation uses every year. For context, the capacity of a large fossil fuel or nuclear power plant is about 1 gigawatt.

A study from the University of Delaware estimates that over the next decade, offshore wind development can drive $109 billion in economic development.

The International Energy Agency has warned that governments must transition to alternative clean energy sources in order to avert the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis.

Offshore wind offers New York a key solution, it could for Maine too.

The New York case—

“We’re at the vanguard of a new clean, renewable energy industry that will generate thousands of jobs, create prosperity for our communities, improve our health, and help protect our coastlines,” said Dominic Frongillo, Executive Director of Elected Officials to Protect America, former Councilmember and Deputy Supervisor Caroline. “Offshore wind is essential for a prosperous, healthy, and just future for New York. That’s why over 100 New York State elected officials have signed our letter.”

Councilmember Sylvia Overby, East Hampton, Long Island is helping with the responsible offshore wind development in her community, which is on the front lines of sea levels rising.

“There is no time to waste in transitioning to clean renewable energy and offshore wind gives communities the opportunity to become renewable energy dependent, not fossil fuel dependent. While creating jobs is certainly a plus, the goal of 100 percent renewable energy consumption is made possible with offshore wind projects,” expressed Overby.

Offshore wind power has the potential to meet 90 percent of total U.S. energy demand by 2050. President Joe Biden’s goal to achieve a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 will require an unprecedented expansion of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels that continue to fuel the climate crisis. Hence, the Biden administration is focused on ensuring that 30 gigawatts of offshore wind is in operation by 2030.

“Businesses, environmental justice organizations, labor unions, and community and environmental groups all want to see offshore wind developed responsibly. No one can be left behind,” said Mary Lupien, Rochester City Councilmember, EOPA New York Leadership Council. “Our State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) includes frontline communities in the manufacturing, development, and generation of offshore wind power and requires 35 percent of benefits accrue to underserved communities. It also supports the Biden administration’s twin energy and equity goals.”

Rochester has the highest rate of poverty in New York State. “The development of offshore wind on Lake Ontario would be a huge economic driver for my community. With training and the CLCPA mandate we can lift people out of the vicious cycle of poverty,” said Lupien.

To achieve a carbon-free power grid by 2040, CLCPA set a mandate to have 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035, enough to power the needs of 6 million homes. New York has five offshore wind projects in active development, totaling more than 4,300 megawatts (MW), which is almost half of CLCPA mandate.

Developers will need facilities that can assemble huge towers and turbine blades and support the specialized ships that install and maintain them. Port cities are essential to support offshore wind development.

“Offshore wind has the potential to generate jobs and economic development in historically underserved communities of color that have shouldered disproportionate egregious environmental impacts from the use of oil, gas and coal. I’m proud to have played a role in bringing offshore wind development to my community,” said Felix Ortiz, Former New York State Assemblymember, Assistant Speaker, Army veteran (rt.), EOPA National Leadership Council. “As we build a clean energy economy offshore wind development is at the forefront. Add solar and land wind power to the mix and we could eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels for electricity, while meeting our CLCPA goals, and sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Ortiz experienced the ravages of Superstorm Sandy as well as Ida’s wrath with his basement in Brooklyn flooding. “When people say they don’t like seeing offshore wind turbines that are only about an inch on the horizon, I tell them an inch far in the distance is better than 6 inches in the basements of my community. Climate change is here, we need to act. Offshore wind is an unprecedented opportunity on the road to a clean energy economy,’ said Ortiz.

Offshore wind development is a major economic driver for New York State. From Long Island to Albany a host of other supply chain businesses will be needed.

A new workforce will be trained in highly skilled union jobs. The offshore wind buildout also offers oil and gas companies and their workers an opportunity to pivot to a new clean energy sector that shares some common skills and technologies. Offshore wind platforms were developed using oil industry platform designs. Jobs for iron workers, line workers, engineers, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, manufacturing and management, data scientists, welders, accountants, safety technicians all the way up to marine biologists will be created.

An obstacle that has held back some clean energy development has been an unreliable grid. According to the Department of Energy, power outages cost the U.S. economy up to $70 billion annually. The Biden administration’s $1 trillion bipartisan Infrastructure package begins to address the issue as it will build thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewables and clean energy, which is critical to transport renewable clean energy to where it’s needed. A new revamped grid will support the additional energy sources being added to its current narrow capacity.

In order to transition to electric vehicles offshore wind could play a vital role as we will need a large injection of clean energy sources to meet the projected demand.

“Offshore wind power is reliable in all kinds of weather, and at any time day or night. Another plus for the build out of offshore wind is that Coastal and Great Lakes states account for almost 80 percent of U.S. electricity demand, which means that offshore wind energy can supply electricity for the majority of Americans by powering major population centers,” said William Reinhardt, Albany County Legislator, EOPA New York Leadership Council. “And offshore wind potential in the Great Lakes is more than 700 gigawatts, representing one-fifth of America’s total offshore wind potential. Offshore wind is our future.”

New York is a member of the Great Lakes Offshore Wind Energy Consortium, which supports the efficient and responsible review of proposed offshore wind energy projects in the Great Lakes.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) conducted 20 studies and engaged with stakeholders and the public to create the offshore wind Master Plan to determine the most responsible and cost-effective pathways for developing offshore wind energy.

At the moment, only seven commercial turbines — five in Rhode Island and two in Virginia — are up and spinning. Europe, by contrast, has already deployed over 5,000 offshore turbines.