Whether it’s large offshore wind farms shattering cost reduction goals, or giant turbines generating a record amount of energy in a 24-hour period, there have been plenty of developments to celebrate in the wind energy sector recently.
Yet even as America finally seems to be getting serious about offshore wind, renewable energy advocates would be right to worry about what short-term political (ahem) winds may mean for long-term development. Can subsidies and tax credits survive? Will anti-renewables forces try to scupper new projects as they tried in North Carolina recently?
A few headlines out of Europe suggest that such oppositional tactics may only have limited results. First up, Deutsche Welle reports that for the first time ever, an offshore wind farm will be built without any subsidies at all. And this isn’t a small project either—"He Dreiht," as the project will be known, is projected to have a capacity of 900 megawatts.
Meanwhile, a report from Scottish Renewables suggests that onshore wind farms could compete subsidy-free in the UK, as long as they were allowed to take part in the country’s competitive auction process. (Known as contracts for difference, or CfD, the competitive auction process does not currently include onshore wind.)
Finally, while the loss of incentives and tax credits might have less impact than it once did—thanks to ongoing cost reduction and technological improvement—we are right to be concerned that political obstructionists can still do a lot of damage to the future of renewables. (The exclusion of wind from the aforementioned CfD process in the UK is one example.) But here too, there are signs of progress—because oil giant Shell is lobbying for the Dutch government to quadruple its offshore wind target for 2030 to an installed capacity of a whopping 20 gigawatts (GW). As Shell joins the likes of Statoil—which recently quit tar sands in favor of offshore wind—the shift of political and lobbying power starts to shift.
Big business is already not a fan of taking climate action. If oil giants are increasingly joining that club too, then obstructionism will only get so far.
Let’s be clear: Regressive forces are still a problem. Companies are still lobbying for deregulation on important elements of climate action. And a few subsidy-free projects does not mean that subsidies should disappear overnight. (Especially in a world where fossil fuel subsidies continue to dominate the market.) But clean tech is here to stay. And the progress it is making means its opponents options are limited.