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Capitalizing on Offshore Wind

How New York can become the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy

Last December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for New York state to have a 100% carbon-neutral electricity supply by 2040. “New York must be the most progressive state in the nation moving to renewables,” he said during a speech at New York City’s Hunter College.

Good timing. With politicians trying to outgreen each other—even stalwart Republicans like Sen. Lamar Alexander and Rep. Matt Gaetz are proposing conservative solutions to climate change—being ambitious when it comes to wind, solar and other renewables makes both practical and financial sense.

“The studies that I have seen make a compelling case that shifting to renewables will save consumers money and create tens of thousands of jobs,” says Dan Chorost, a partner at Sive Paget Riesel. An environmental lawyer currently focused on offshore wind, Chorost says the state is in a unique position to hit its 2040 date.

“People refer to the waters off the northeastern United States as the ‘Saudi Arabia of offshore wind’ because we have the perfect combination of strong winds, shallow ocean and demand,” he says.

“Political support for offshore wind is strong from Maine to Maryland,” adds Dr. Stephanie McClellan, director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind at the University of Delaware. “These states have realized that offshore wind power can be a large part of their clean-energy portfolio and path to emissions reduction. It is bipartisan, with Republican governors Baker [Massachusetts] and Hogan [Maryland] supporting offshore wind, in addition to Democratic governors Cuomo, Murphy [New Jersey], Raimondo [Rhode Island] and Lamont [Connecticut].”

Capturing this energy, however, presents huge challenges. The environmental impacts include creating conflicts with commercial and recreational fishers, and disturbing marine life habitats. There’s also the need for on- and offshore space on which to assemble the equipment—no small task considering the size and scope of what’s involved. “The new generation of offshore wind turbines are roughly the size of the Chrysler Building, and the blades are each larger than a football field,” says Chorost.

And while wind turbines will be situated 15 to 30 miles out to sea, minimizing their visual impact, there’s the matter of getting them built and hauling them through urban areas and under low bridges.

“Who in the U.S. will build the $400 million Jones Act-compliant vessels required to move and install these machines?” asks Chorost. “How fast can we build the supply chain, which is vital to keeping development, and thus energy, costs down?”

There’s also the issue of turbines this far offshore being in federal waters, which will require leases from the federal government—a potential stumbling block in times of fierce partisanship.

But the upside can be huge. “On the East Coast, for example, the amount of electricity that can be generated—1,300 gigawatts—can meet all the power needs of the entire East Coast,” says McClellan.

While the conversion to renewables can sometimes seem like pie in the sky, the industries, Chorost says, are further along than many think.

“Trillions of dollars were spent to build the fossil fuel infrastructure, and that industry will not be replaced overnight,” says Chorost. “But this transition is happening, is necessary, and has the incredible potential to drive our economy while at the same time decreasing our reliance on foreign oil.”

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