By Paul Steidler
Offshore wind power has been embraced by Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Phil Murphy of New Jersey as the silver bullet to solve their states’ energy needs and meet ambitious carbon reduction goals. Yet, offshore wind is a microscopic speck of today’s power generation.
Putting so many eggs in the basket of unproven, large-scale offshore wind runs the risk of high electricity costs to consumers and disruptions in grid reliability, resulting in blackouts that lead to economic and public safety trauma.
The United States today has one – yes one – offshore wind facility which provides 30 megawatts of power, enough electricity for about 25,000 homes.
Yet, Governor Murphy has set a goal for New Jersey to have 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, more than 110 times America’s current offshore wind power. Not to be outdone, Governor Cuomo has set New York’s goal at 9,000 megawatts by 2035, more than 300 times the current U.S. total.
California, which received 34 percent of its 2018 electricity from renewables, has placed minimal emphasis on offshore wind and has no projects near approval. Environmentally conscious Europe has been similarly unenthusiastic.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that at the of 2017, worldwide there was 16,312 megawatts of operational offshore wind power. For perspective, that is less power than New Jersey needs on a hot summer day.
Figures from the International Energy Agency show offshore wind accounted for 0.16 percent of the world’s electricity usage at the end of 2017. It was a mere four percent of the overall category of wind power.
Yet the Governors want more than 30 percent of their states’ electricity to come from offshore wind in just over a decade.
Consumers and taxpayers are the guinea pigs. Transmission upgrades to accommodate so much new power will be enormous. In fact, with much of the electric grid built before 1980, there are fewer economies of scale that will be realized by installing new offshore lines than by refurbishing sections of the existing grid that would accommodate new land-based facilities.
In addition, utilities need to increase spending so that the electric grid is better protected against potential cyberattacks from China, Russia and other adversaries. Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified about these threats in January.
New Jersey’s subsidies for an initial 1,100 megawatt offshore project are $1.6 billion, accordingly to the state’s Office of Clean Energy. In New York, the Empire Center for Public Policy estimates two recently signed projects for 1,700 megawatts will need annual subsidies of $528 million.
The increased, above market costs for offshore wind should be clear and transparent to consumers in both states. Nationwide, the U.S. Department of Energy found 20 percent of Americans reduce food or medicine to pay their electric bills. New York and New Jersey’s electricity costs already exceed the national average by more than 32 percent.
Wind power is also less available when it is needed most, in the summer. The costs for back-up peak power are typically quite high.
Both Governors should remember the lessons from Cape Wind, a proposed 454 megawatt facility off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. Unveiled in 2001, the project faced a bevy of community and legal issues and was terminated in 2015.
New York and New Jersey need clean energy contingency plans. They cannot rely on offshore wind. For starters, they should keep non-emitting nuclear power plants operating for as long as possible. These currently account for more than 30 percent of each state’s electricity. Both states should be open minded about new nuclear power generation technologies for smaller reactors, which may be available within a decade.
By taking these steps, the states can have cleaner power without the cost and reliability problems from a rash transition that aims to make offshore wind power the cornerstone of their electricity supplies.
Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.