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Greg Watson

Greg Watson

Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Clean Energy Technology, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs

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Left: Wind turbine off the coast of Blyth, U.K. Right: US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar while touring site of proposed Cape Wind offshore wind project in February

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the governors of 10 East Coast states recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that formally establishes an Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. The mission of the Consortium is to promote a coordinated approach to the development of wind resources on the Outer Continental Shelf. Governor Patrick is a signatory to the MOU, along with his counterparts from Maine, New Hampshire Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. In addition to the MOU signatories, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Ohio and Michigan (the latter two eyeing the waters of the Great Lakes) are also actively exploring offshore wind options.

I have been involved with the development of wind energy resources off the coast of Massachusetts since 1999 and to me this comes as welcome news. Offshore wind is emerging as a global industry (distinct in many ways from onshore wind) with tremendous potential for meeting current and future electricity demand, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs. Approximately 2,400 MW of offshore wind capacity is installed worldwide. The U.K. and Denmark are leading the way. While, to date, there are no wind projects in U.S. waters, that promises to change in the very near future as coastal states that heretofore have been entirely dependent on imports to meet their electricity needs realize that a vast, untapped source of clean energy is now technologically within reach. The agreement among the governors to work together acknowledges the difference between constructing a series of isolated one-off projects and taking steps to create a robust, sustainable industry capable of generating and sustaining manufacturing, construction, and service jobs. Achieving the latter will benefit all of the involved states for decades to come.

Of course, collaboration and competition are not mutually exclusive. As the site for the nation’s first proposed offshore wind farm, Massachusetts has been in the forefront of the U.S. offshore wind activity for the past decade, and we have every intention of maintaining that position. Massachusetts was selected to host the nation’s state-of-the-art facility to test the next generation of giant wind turbine blades. We were the first state to develop a comprehensive ocean management plan that identifies appropriate sites for offshore wind projects in state waters. During the past year, EOEEA sponsored major studies focusing on offshore wind-related transmission and port infrastructure issues. Earlier this year, the nonprofit U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative (USOWC) was established here in Massachusetts with help from a grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

This nation’s offshore wind energy resource is vast and inexhaustible. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates it to be roughly 900,000 MW – close to the country’s total installed capacity. Striking the right balance between collaboration and competition will test the leadership skills of state and federal officials as they work with industry and other offshore wind energy stakeholders to transform that potential into a sustainable industry.

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