A decade ago, wind energy mostly meant giant investments, ugly legal battles and major public opposition. As recently as 3 years ago, we saw proposals in many states—good proposals by respected companies—being tossed out. Lack of public support combined with weak political legs dragged the highly visible CapeWind project through the dirt from its initial approvals in 2005, to 2017, when it was finally shut down and deemed defunct.
Skipping ahead to today, we see a different story emerging; four wind energy projects totaling 1320MW of wind energy capacity were approved in the same region, spanning the shores of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Long Island. In fact, approvals were relatively smooth for Block Island Wind, America’s first offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind (2019 construction date), Revolution Wind and Deep Water Wind, South Fork (both with 2022 construction start dates)—ironically, all along the same coast where the CapeWind project lost its ground.
And over the past decade, US wind production has increased fivefold, with wind currently accounting for 6.9% of our overall energy use. That’s enough to power 24 million homes. These recent offshore approvals will help drive our regional fuel mix diversification and help many states in the region achieve their carbon reduction goals.
So, what has changed?
- Politics – Many states have taken the initiative to support and even encourage offshore wind as part of their diversified clean energy future. Massachusetts has become one of the most progressive states advocating for wind energy, and has committed to 1,600 MW of new offshore wind by 2027. The Vineyard Wind project off its southern coast will fulfill 800 MW of this goal. In Rhode Island, the 400 MW Revolution Wind project will contribute to the state’s goal of 1,000 MW of clean energy by 2020, a tenfold increase from its previous goal. Long Island’s Deep Water Wind, the smallest of the four projects we’ve reviewed at 90 MW, will produce enough energy to power 50,000 New York homes per year.
- Economics – The expansive use of offshore wind in Europe has helped drive down costs for materials and installation. The more cost-effective it becomes for large installations of the turbines, the easier it will be to get broad support. In addition, the success of European projects had laid a road map for US financial institutions to support these projects.
- Customers – Americans are more accepting of the changing energy scene. Look around at the growth in acceptance of solar panels on roof lines that were deemed “ugly” just a few years ago. As the economic and societal benefits have been quantified, customers’ excitement about the technology has as well. Offshore wind is going through the same rapid adoption curve. Where customers used to fight these efforts with all their strength, they are now seeing the benefits and are growing increasingly interested in exploring wind technology options for themselves.
- Trusted brands – Some of the largest and most trusted brands are very vocal about their commitments to Renewable Energy. Apple has sourced 100% of their energy from renewable energy, and Google hit the same mark in 2017. Many other corporate mainstays have done the same. Consumer behavior shows they often follow their most trusted brands and are likely to evolve their values to align with these brands.
- Recognized Benefits – Economists are successfully putting numbers to renewable energy industries. We’re seeing a more accurate and louder voice reporting on the benefits to our workforce and to our overall economy. In Massachusetts alone, the legislation that approved 1,600 MW of offshore wind is estimated to have a total economic impact of $1.4 billion to $2.1 billion. This means 7,000-9,500 new jobs in MA and a huge economic boost to many coastal communities, such as New Bedford.
While we may be a little late to the game (offshore wind started in Europe 20 years ago), and our start was small (Block Island Wind is a 30 MW project, the EU already has 16,000 MW of offshore wind), we have positioned ourselves on a runway filled with possibilities for wind to take off.
As experts of sustainable energy, it is our job to help our clients in their mission to deliver clean energy options and the right kind of messaging about it to their clients. Whether you are a utility company or an energy product company, there are some important lessons to take-away:
- Customers need to be informed about the value of sustainable energy technologies and how it benefits them. Speak to specific audiences in value-based terms they will understand.
- Customers want to be engaged. They want to hear from trusted sources. They want to provide feedback. If you can engage customers, you can bring them along.
- Customers’ perceptions change, and they often change quickly. This is a time that we are seeing customers becoming more open to new energy choices and technologies, and we are helping our clients push the boundaries to bring their customers into a new era of energy.
We would love to discuss how we could help you navigate this path with your customers.