Lessons on Offshore Wind from Copenhagen

Veronica Eady

Do you remember the energy crisis of the 1970s? Countries like the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe – all overly-reliant on foreign oil – faced oil shortages and spiking prices. Perhaps you’ve seen images of cars lining up to purchase gasoline, or heard stories of gasoline rationing. If your license plate ended in an odd number, you could only gas up your car on odd dates, and even number plates on even dates.

What many of us don’t know is that crisis of 40 years ago led to the renewable energy revolution we’re witnessing today. The energy crisis was a wake-up call for Denmark as Danish leaders realized that they needed to develop homegrown energy. In 1979 its first wind turbine was installed and today 40 percent of Denmark’s energy comes from wind.

This summer I got to see some of Denmark’s renewable innovations when I joined the Boston Climate Bridge, a delegation of women from Boston working on climate change issues for a trip to the country to learn about best practices. One of the many activities I during our six days there was a visit to an offshore wind farm. Located just two miles off the coast of Denmark, Middelgrunden was the world’s largest offshore wind farm when it went online in 2000. Its 20 turbines generate 40 megawatts of wind energy – enough to power 16,000 homes – and it’s the first wind energy cooperative, with 10 turbines owned by Middelgrunden Wind Turbine Cooperative (about 9,000 individual investors) and the other 10 owned by the Danish energy company DONG Energy.

Seeing everything that Denmark has done made me excited about the growing potential for renewable energy, particularly offshore wind, here in New England. Our country’s first offshore wind farm – Deepwater Wind’s five turbines off the coast of Block Island in Rhode Island – are set to start turning later this month. They will provide electricity – with some to spare – for the entire island community.

And, in July, the Massachusetts legislature set the stage for large-scale renewable energy development when it passed legislation that requires the state to procure 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind (that’s enough to power 64,000 homes in the state). The same DONG Energy that built Denmark’s Middelgrunden has already acquired development rights to build a 100-turbine wind farm off Massachusetts’ coast. With DONG having built more than one third of all offshore wind capacity worldwide, we’re on very good footing with such an experienced partner.

In Denmark, I saw firsthand that, in barely one generation, significant progress can be made in transitioning from polluting fuels to clean ones. Renewable energy in New England is at the beginning of what will be a steady climb. But it’s a necessary climb if we’re to end our climate-damaging addiction to fossil fuels and create a brighter and healthier future for generations to come.

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