Economic, environmental benefits power offshore wind

Source: By Robert O’Leary, Cape Cod Times • Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The environmental benefits of the Vineyard Wind project are widely known – 800 megawatts of renewable energy that will power up to 400,000 homes and reduce carbon emissions by 1.6 million tons every year at a cost below the current market price for fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

But equally compelling is the fact that Vineyard Wind, and the three additional projects scheduled to follow it, will create a unique maritime-based economy that does not exist today in southern New England or the coastal United States. Taken together, these four projects – which were competitively bid after extensive public input – will create thousands of jobs across the region and create a supply chain of products and services from New Bedford to the Cape and Islands to support the construction and maintenance of these turbines.

As the U.S. Department of the Interior prepares to complete its final review of the Vineyard Wind project, it is important to note that this nascent industry is not simply of beneficial value to our environment, but to our regional economy as well.

The offshore wind industry in Massachusetts fits squarely into what many call our “Blue Economy.” A recent report issued by the Public Policy Center at UMass Dartmouth, Bristol Community College and the Massachusetts Maritime Academy estimates that nearly 10,000 jobs will be created during the construction phase of the four projects slated to be built off the Massachusetts coast. These jobs range from laborers to project engineers and public policy experts and will create substantial salaries for the workforce, even higher for those with advanced degrees.

In the past, Cape Codders fished the North Atlantic, hunted whales in the South Pacific and built ships that engaged in maritime commerce around the globe. Today, much of that is no more.

Times have changed, but our connection to – and reliance upon – the sea has not changed. The maritime economy continues to play an important role in each New England coastal state, and nowhere is that impact greater than in Massachusetts where we employ more than 90,000 people, pay $3.4 billion in wages and produce $6.4 billion in gross state product. The port of New Bedford alone accounts for $370 million in fish landings, the richest fishing port in the United States.

On Cape Cod, the Blue Economy accounts for 12% of our workforce in 1,872 businesses supporting over 20,000 jobs across eight industry sectors while generating $1.4 billion in revenues. This is an economic engine that is driving commerce along our 1,500-mile coastline. We have a unique opportunity to expand our economic base and immediately benefit local institutions like the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Cape Cod Community College and UMass Dartmouth.

While industries such as textiles and computer manufacturing have come and gone, the ocean economy is forever and has remained durable and transformational as bygone eras such as whaling vanish. Our proximity to the ocean is an essential connection that is inextricable with our culture, workforce and educational institutions.

At a moment in our history when we are experiencing historic storms and global warming, we need to embrace the arrival of an industry that will offset carbon emissions and eliminate the need for fossil fuel-based power plants. But we also need to acknowledge that the offshore wind industry is the next big thing in a centuries-old tradition of the maritime economy, putting food on the tables of those who live or work near the ocean.

Resistance to change is understandable, but the economic and environmental benefits of this project are undeniable.

Robert O’Leary is the former state senator for the Cape and Islands and author of the state’s ocean management law. He is a professor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Wendy Northcross is the chief executive officer for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.