How the first US offshore wind project holds lessons for carbon capture

Top: Siemens 2.3 MW Offshore Wind Turbines, courtesy Siemens Press.

Bottom: The ADA-ES 1 MWe pilot unit, courtesy US Department of Energy.

This fall, America’s first offshore wind farm will come online off the coast of Rhode Island, launching a new industry with the potential to create clean energy jobs in manufacturing and in the marine trades, attract private investment to New England, and reduce carbon emissions.

In Europe, the number of offshore wind farms grew from zero to 84 in just a few decades. What lessons can we draw from the growth of offshore wind that could help advance carbon capture technology?

State Leadership

New energy technologies often need both state and federal support to be deployed commercially. Rhode Island has been a leader in supporting offshore wind. In 2010, its legislature authorized a state utility to enter into an offtake agreement for offshore wind power. This year, Massachusetts did the same, and New York announced a new Offshore Wind blueprint.

Rhode Island also brought stakeholders together to create an Oceanic Special Area Management Plan outlining multiple uses for the marine environment. These efforts laid the groundwork for Deepwater Wind to develop the Block Island Wind Farm, a 30 MW, five-turbine project that can provide power for most of Block Island’s 1,051 residents.

Similar state policies could help deploy more carbon capture technology as well. A handful of states have clean energy standards that include carbon capture technology, including Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Utah. This year, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock highlighted carbon capture in his state’s Energy Future Blueprint. Other states could follow this model.

Both the Western Governors’ Association and the Southern States Energy Board have issued resolutions supporting carbon capture technology as did the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners

Financing Support

National policies and early financing support played a role in the success of offshore wind projects in Europe. A report by the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute noted that European nations included offshore wind in national energy policies and established feed-in tariffs to provide incentives for deployment.

Multilateral development banks like the European Investment Bank played a leadership role by lending to early offshore wind projects, paving the way for commercial banks to follow. Once these major factors were in place, then technology development, the establishment of standardized contract structures, and maintaining a certain level of deal flow helped drive efficiencies that brought down costs.

When it comes to financing carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) in the U.S., we have some pieces of the puzzle in place. There is already a basic federal and state regulatory framework for underground storage of CO2, for example.

Still, financing policies are needed to enable investment in carbon capture projects. We should extend and expand commercial deployment incentives like tax credits and open up the use of master limited partnerships and private activity bonds to carbon capture, among other things.     

Regional Approach

A third lesson to draw from offshore wind is that to create new domestic industries, it helps to take a regional approach. Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced funding for a multi-state effort for offshore wind in the Northeast to develop a regional supply chain.  

DOE is taking a similar approach with CCUS and launched seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships to characterize CO2 storage potential in the U.S. and to conduct small and large-scale CO2 storage injection tests. Millions of tons of CO2 have already been stored for decades in West Texas as part of enhanced oil recovery operations. The regional partnerships characterized the potential for more CO2 storage in deep oil-, gas-, coal-, and saline-bearing formations as illustrated in the Carbon Storage Atlas. To date, the partnerships have safely and permanently injected more than 10 million metric tons of CO2 in these types of formations.    

Investing seriously in carbon capture technology has economic benefits including for electrical workers, boilermakers, the building trades, and steelworkers. A new CO2 commodity industry could be created to reuse CO2 to make other products.

Carbon capture also has environmental benefits, helping us address emissions from industrial plants, which are the source of 21 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and from coal and natural gas power plants, which currently supply two-thirds of U.S. electricity.

This fall, as we celebrate the beginning of the new offshore wind industry in the U.S., let’s keep thinking big about what is possible with carbon capture technology. With sufficient financial and policy support, we can create skilled jobs, attract private investment, and lower CO2 emissions.