Wind energy can power much of East Coast, study says

Posted Sept. 28, 2010, at 5:29 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. — Offshore wind power in Atlantic waters could supply nearly half the current electricity generation of the East Coast and create up to 200,000 jobs or more, an environmental group concludes in a study released Tuesday.

The study by Oceana, an environmental group focused on oceanic issues, predicts winds along the East Coast have the potential to deliver 30 percent more electricity than “economically recoverable” offshore oil and gas in the same region.

The study also estimates that the emerging offshore wind industry would create between 133,000 and 212,000 jobs annually in the U.S. — more than three times the estimated future job creation through expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.

The authors of “Untapped Wealth: The Potential of Offshore Energy to Deliver Clean, Affordable Energy and Jobs” said they studied potential offshore wind tracts 3 to 24 miles off the East Coast in depths of 30 meters (98 feet) or fewer and used conservative estimates to arrive at their conclusions.

Many of the assumptions, such as job generation, are based on experience in Europe, which has a far-advanced offshore wind industry.

Great Britain opened the world’s largest offshore wind farm last week. The huge site in the North Sea has 100 turbines, which including previous capacity gave Britain the ability to power all the homes in Scotland.

The U.S. has approved only one offshore wind farm, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

“The technology exists. We just need to have the will to do it,” said Simon Mahan, one of the Oceana study authors and is now with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Among the study’s other findings:

— Delaware, Massachusetts and North Carolina could exceed all their current energy needs through offshore winds, while New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina could achieve 64 percent or more of their energy needs.

Much of a state’s ability to generate offshore winds hinges on its location and length of its coastline. Georgia, for instance, is located farther south, which has lighter winds, and a smaller coastline. Its potential for offshore energy is in the single digits.

— U.S. offshore wind generation capacity on the Atlantic Coast is at least 127 gigawatts. That is approximately equal to European projections for offshore wind energy on that continent in less than 20 years.

More than 24,000 wind turbines would have to be scattered in East Coast waters to achieve that level of generation.

East Coast states have been giving offshore winds a closer look following the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. President Barack Obama suspended planned exploratory gas and oil drilling off Virginia’s coast shortly after the April spill. The state was first in line to begin drilling.

The U.S. Department of the Interior has reached agreement with 10 East Coast governors to work together to develop windmills in the Atlantic.

“Our research revealed that harnessing offshore wind power in Atlantic waters is a much more cost-effective way to generate energy than oil and gas drilling,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana, which opposes offshore drilling.

Savitz said the study is intended to counter oil industry warnings that a reduction in drilling will cost jobs.

“The clean industry can also generate jobs,” she said. “That’s one of the things we’re trying to bring out in this.”

The jobs would be created for a nearly nonexistent U.S. industry to fabricate giant turbines, as well as ships needed to build and service them and related industries.

Oceana also recommended the elimination of federal subsidies for fossil fuels; a permanent ban on new oil and gas development in the Atlantic; and other measures to encourage offshore wind development.

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