The U.S. offshore wind sector took a giant step forward on Tuesday after authorities gave the green light to build and operate the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind 1 project.
In a statement, the US Department of the Interior described developments in waters off the coast of Massachusetts as “the first major offshore wind project in the United States”.
The Vineyard Wind project is expected to create 3,600 jobs and “provide enough electricity for 400,000 households and businesses”.
The DOI added that a decision protocol has given Vineyard Wind “final federal approval to install 84 or fewer turbines off Massachusetts as part of an 800-megawatt offshore wind turbine.”
According to the Vineyard Wind team, the rig will use GE Renewable Energy’s giant Haliade-X turbines, which means only 62 are actually needed.
Vineyard Wind is a 50:50 joint venture between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables. The latter is a subsidiary of Avangrid, which is part of the Iberdrola Group, a large utility company headquartered in Spain.
Iberdrola The investment in the project will amount to 2.5 billion euros. If everything goes according to plan, it could go into operation in 2023.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Jonathan Cole, Iberdrola’s global director of offshore wind, told CNBC that the project’s approval was “extremely important”.
“This is the approval that is needed so that we can build the project now,” he said.
“This is the first of its kind in the US and many other projects are expected to follow suit. So this is really the one that will get the US offshore wind sector going in earnest.”
“So it’s a big moment for this project and for our companies, but it’s also a big moment for the entire US offshore wind sector.”
Cole’s views have been corroborated by a number of organizations, including the National Ocean Industries Association.
Its president Erik Milito called the greenlighting of the Vineyard Wind project “an American energy milestone”.
“American offshore wind is an opportunity for generations and its prospects are safer with the Vineyard Wind Record of Decision,” he added.
Elsewhere, Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, hailed “a historic day for clean energy and for our country that has been in place for over a decade”.
“Now is the time to move offshore wind forward, catch up with global competitors and decarbonize our electricity grid so that the US can bring economic and environmental benefits to our citizens and combat climate change,” she added.
Tuesday’s news is the latest shot in the arm of the fledgling American offshore wind sector.
The Ministries of Energy, Home Affairs and Trade announced this in March wanted the offshore wind capacity to reach 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, a move the Biden government hopes will create thousands of jobs and billions in investment in the years to come.
If that goal is achieved, it would mean significant expansion for the US. While America is home to a well-developed onshore wind industry, the country’s first offshore wind turbine, the 30 MW Block Island wind farm, is only started commercial operation at the end of 2016.
Preliminary figures from the US Energy Information Administration show that the share of wind in utility-scale electricity generation was 8.4% for 2020.
In contrast, the share of natural gas and coal was 40.3% and 19.3%, respectively. Overall, fossil fuels had a share of 60.3%, while nuclear power plants and renewable energies had a share of 19.7% and 19.8%, respectively.
If you look at the global picture for offshore wind, the US still has some way to go before it catches up with more mature markets like Europe.
The industry was there last year attracted investments of over 26 billion euros, a record amount according to the industry association WindEurope. In 2020, 2.9 GW of offshore wind capacity was installed in Europe.