New Englanders back more offshore wind power – but don’t send it to New York


David Bidwell, University of Rhode Island; Jeremy Firestone, University of Delawareand Michael Ferguson, University of New Hampshire

In Rhode Island, home to the first offshore wind farm in the United Statesmost people support the expansion of offshore wind power – with one important caveat.

Our to research shows that they are less likely to support a wind energy project if its energy flows to another state, and especially if it goes to a rival state. We’ve found the same sentiment to be true on the New Hampshire coast.

Social scientists like us call it “regionalism,” and our research suggests it could have serious implications for the transition to renewable energy.

Think of the rivalries and sometimes outright animosity among baseball fans. Few regional rivalries are as intense as the one between supporters of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. More than mere bluster, these territorial identities can strongly influence people’s thoughts and attitudes over rival cities in a way that goes far beyond the game. A Yankees allegiance can even influence the perception of the distance between New York and Boston.

But do regional identities affect attitudes towards energy development? Our studies of public attitudes towards the development of offshore wind energy indicate yes.

Which State Gets Power Matters

We conducted two surveys – one in Rhode Island and one on the New Hampshire coast – to see what people thought about offshore wind energy, including energy exports.

Overall, both groups supported wind power off their coasts.

People were happier if the electricity was generated for their home country. It was no surprise. Studies have shown that the general public opposes energy exportsperhaps fueled by concerns about distributive justice. Distributive justice refers to the discrepancies between who bears the costs, such as having power plants and equipment in sight, and who benefits, such as income and energy produced.

The answers became more interesting when we asked about exporting electricity to specific states.

For New Hampshire residents, wind power projects that send electricity to their North Woods brethren in Maine were more palatable than projects that would connect to more urban Massachusetts.

For Rhode Islanders, a wind project serving Massachusetts was OK, but not one serving New York. This reaction was consistent with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, with people in Red Sox lovers Rhode Island preferring that the electricity be sent to New England instead.

Our study demonstrates that not only are people less supportive of other states claiming power generated off their coasts, but it also matters which state is involved. It is important to remember that once the electricity enters the Northeast grid, the energy from these wind turbines can go anywhere. The electric company and the state that contracts with a wind farm can benefit from the price and the credit for the contribution of this clean energy, but the electricity itself is not limited to this state, and the advantages for the climate and clean energy are also more global. However, the perception of the beneficiaries is important for the acceptance of the projects by the public.

What this means for the future

How will this regionalism translate to actual projects? We are not sure, but these are not just hypothetical situations.

A project off Delaware will supply electricity to Maryland. A recently approved project for the Rhode Island offshore development will supply power to Long Island, New York.

The United States is poised for a rapid increase in offshore wind power. The Biden administration has enthusiastically engaged offshore wind development, and coastal states have already committed to producing nearly 45 gigawatts of offshore wind energy. It’s close to the worldwide total of about 57 gigawatts, and about 1,000 times the current US output from its seven existing offshore wind turbines. The first major project, Wind from the vineyardis being built south of Martha’s Vineyard to eventually supply up to 800 megawatts of power to its home state of Massachusetts.

The maps show areas leased for future offshore wind projects. BOEM

Offshore wind energy has been the subject of some controversy in the United States. One of the first proposed projects, Cape Wind, was scuttled by two decades of trial. The public often objects to the potential impacts on ocean views, fishing industry and whales and other wildlife. Concerns about distributive justice could also turn public opinion against future projects.

What to do about it

One way to ensure equity in energy projects is to provide “community benefits” such as revenue sharing with communities affected by offshore energy projects. We believe that offshore energy developers and policy makers should expand engagement to neighboring states and communities and consider how the project might affect neighboring communities.

The energy transition can also be accelerated by recognizing location-based identities and plan accordingly, minimizing rivalries. For example, the federal government could move away from naming areas of the ocean designated for offshore wind development after specific states.

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David BidwellAssociate Professor, Department of Maritime Affairs, University of Rhode Island; Jeremy FirestoneProfessor, School of Marine Science and Policy, University of Delawareand Michael FergusonAssistant Professor in Leisure Management and Policy, University of New Hampshire

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