New England has enough offshore wind to generate more than five times its projected electricity needs by 2050, with Maine having especially high potential to generate the clean power, a study released Thursday found.
The study by Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group, which looked at offshore wind power across the United States, found that Maine has the highest ratio among states of potential wind power for both current and future electricity needs for buildings, industry and vehicles that eventually will be powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels.
Offshore wind is a key part of Gov. Janet Mills’ climate and pandemic recovery plans and has long been a topic of discussion here as the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center has been working for roughly a decade on floating wind platforms tethered to the seabed. While the energy source is only emerging in the U.S., offshore wind has enormous potential in decades to come.
“Harnessing just 3 percent of the Gulf of Maine’s offshore wind resource would be enough to fully electrify heating and transportation in Maine,” Habib Dagher, executive director of the center, told reporters Thursday.
Last November, the Democratic governor revealed a plan to create the nation’s first floating offshore wind research farm between 20 and 40 miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine. Mills met with the British consul general to New England on Tuesday, partly as a follow-up to an agreement the United Kingdom and Maine signed in December to advance clean energy to meet their respective climate goals.
The U.S. lags wind power installations elsewhere in the world. The United Kingdom government alone plans to generate a third of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, Reuters said. By contrast, the U.S. has two operational pilot projects, and there are another 34 proposals for offshore wind development. There are 5,500 offshore turbines worldwide already generating power and ambitious plans are in the works.
However, the Atlantic region has the most and the largest offshore wind projects in the works with 26 projects in various stages of planning or development. Of the 14 states along the seaboard, 12, including Maine, have the potential to produce more electricity from offshore wind than they used in 2019, and seven have the potential to produce more than they are projected to use in 2050.
“Other countries have been benefiting from offshore wind for decades, and it’s high time we join them,” Anya Fetcher, state director for Environment Maine, said.
The report said a regional effort to develop offshore wind will be critical for its efficient and responsible development. Fishermen have objected to the turbines, and in response, Mills proposed a 10-year moratorium on new offshore wind projects in state-managed waters. Shilo Felton, field manager of the Clean Energy Initiative at the National Audubon Society, said coordinated efforts will help reduce the risk for birds and other wildlife from the offshore turbines.
The U.S. currently gets about 11.5 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and geothermal sources, up from about 0.6 percent two decades ago. But the country has the technical potential to produce more than 7,200 terawatt-hours of electricity from offshore wind, which is almost two times the amount of electricity the U.S. consumed in 2019 and about 90 percent of the amount of electricity the nation would consume in 2050 if it had electrified buildings, transportation and industry.