This story is part of a series about the burgeoning offshore wind industry and the economic potential it offers to Southeastern Massachusetts and the Cape and Islands. It is powered by the Solutions Journalism Network and is dedicated to delivering solution-oriented stories about how the region can overcome problems and obstacles to fully embrace the opportunity this new industry offers. For unlimited access to our local journalism subscribe today.
Before he worked for American Clean Power, Jeff Danielson was an Iowa state senator for 15 years, representing Black Hawk County, the state’s fourth most populous region, and a Democratic stronghold. But most of Iowa is rural and Republican. In 2020 residents voted wholesale for former President Donald Trump, an outspoken opponent of clean energy.
So it was a surprise, Danielson said, that in a 2017 vote on a redesign of the state license plate, the public chose to include an increasingly familiar feature on Iowa’s rural landscape.
“The license plate that won was a landscaped picture with silos, smokestacks — traditional manufacturing strength and farming — right alongside a wind turbine,” Danielson said. “If you drive around Iowa today, that is the license plate you see.”
What was once controversial has now become an accepted feature in the heartland. In 2019, wind energy generated more electricity than coal-fired plants for the first time in Iowa state history and now accounts for 57% of the state’s electric power generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
It is the highest percentage of electrical production by wind power of any state and it happened fast. Five years ago coal-fired plants generated 53% of the state’s electricity, according to EIA, but as of 2020 only accounted for 24%.
It’s a matter of economics, wind power advocates say, not politics.
The U.S. is second only to China in terms of installed wind power. China has 288 gigawatts compared to the U.S., which has 122. But China is way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to offshore wind installations. This year, China displaced the U.K. as the top offshore wind country with 11.1 gigawatts of power installed. The U.S. has only one, a 55-megawatt, five-turbine offshore wind installation off Block Island, Rhode Island.
Last year, the Biden administration set a goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore power along the East Coast by 2030 as part of its strategy to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector. Massachusetts’ recent update of its climate change plan set a goal of 5.6 gigawatts of offshore wind as an integral part of its plan to achieve a 50% emissions reduction target by 2030, and net-zero emissions from the energy sector by 2050.
Wind energy industry brings jobs and billions of dollars to a community
An important milestone on the road to achieving these goals was final approval by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last spring of Vineyard Wind 1, an 800-megawatt wind farm that will become the nation’s first utility-scale wind farm. Located just 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, the farm is in the heart of what is considered prime wind country for its wind speeds and duration and relatively easy accessibility.
When completed, Vineyard Wind 1 will provide electricity to about 400,000 homes and businesses, according to the company.
Massachusetts has six wind lease areas and three it shares with Rhode Island. Wind farm construction and operations can generate thousands of jobs and billions in economic investment.
The American Wind Energy Association’s (now part of American Clean Power) 2020 economic assessment of offshore wind on the East Coast projected that $28 to $57 billion in investments will flow into the U.S. economy between now and 2030, depending on how much power is installed and on supply chain growth in the U.S. The report estimated that offshore wind construction and operations would produce between 19,000 and 45,000 jobs by 2025 and 45,000 to 83,000 jobs by 2030.
State and municipal leaders hope communities on the Cape and Islands and Southeastern Massachusetts communities will gain significantly in job creation and economic investments as this new industry evolves. Although offshore wind has no track record in the U.S. to back up projections and estimates, a mature onshore wind industry, particularly in the Midwest and Southwestern U.S., demonstrates that success is possible and that communities benefited overall.
Unlike coal and gas-fired plants, which must buy fuel to produce electricity, wind companies make lease payments to secure land to build and operate their turbines. That money goes to landowners, and it has helped even out the variability in weather and pricing endemic to farming.
But there are community-wide economic benefits as well. Wind companies pay for labor and materials for construction and hire locally for long-term operations and maintenance jobs. Property taxes, payments negotiated through economic development agreements, and money for road use are also major revenue sources for municipalities, counties and their residents that helped this new industry gain acceptance in America’s heartland.
“That money (lease payments) along with the tax money and the salaries and benefits really buoys the local economy in ways that not even a manufacturing plant can do on a single site,” Danielson said. “People recognize that.”
Wind energy reduced reliance on fossil fuels in Midwest
These economic benefits helped other Midwestern and western states that once were heavily dependent on fossil fuels to generate electricity, adjust their energy portfolio to include wind power. According to the EIA, Texas is the nation’s number one producer of crude oil and natural gas. But it is also ranked first in wind, producing 28% of the wind-generated electricity in the U.S.
Indiana is still a coal state — it was third in the country in terms of coal consumption for industry and electrical generation in 2020, and coal-fired plants accounted for 53% of its electrical generation — but wind is starting to make inroads, accounting for 7% of utility-scale power generation in 2020, according to the EIA.
Benton County is the heart of Indiana’s wind country with 653 turbines and a capacity of nearly 1,200 megawatts of power already installed. Just 30 miles down the interstate is White…
Read More: Will it bring jobs to MA as it did to mid-west