Catching the Wind: State Actions Needed to Seize the Golden Opportunity of Atlantic Offshore Wind Power

More than 1.5 million acres off the Atlantic coast have been designated for offshore wind power development, enough to produce more than 16,000 megawatts of electricity and power more than five million homes, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. “Catching the Wind: State Actions Needed to Seize the Golden Opportunity of Atlantic Offshore Wind Power,” also contains a new analysis showing how the strong, consistent winds offshore can provide power to Maine right when we need it most – and, at the same time, cut energy costs and air pollution here in Maine.



National Wildlife Federation

Executive Summary


The Atlantic coastline is at the epicenter of America’s energy and environmental challenges, with state leaders currently facing critical decisions to meet the region’s growing energy demands and protect our communities and wildlife from the impacts of climate change. The cities, metropolitan areas, and sprawling suburbs that stretch along the East Coast have a massive, pollution-free energy source ready to meet these challenges –– offshore wind.


Responsibly developed offshore wind power offers a golden opportunity to meet our coastal energy needs with a clean, local resource that will spur investments in local economies –– creating unparalleled job growth and avoiding the need to export hard-earned energy dollars outside the region. For over twenty years, Europe has been reaping these benefits of offshore wind power –– including over 58,000 jobs –– and countries around the globe are rapidly mobilizing to tap their offshore wind resources using today’s commercially available, advanced technologies.


Thanks to the leadership of the federal government, forward-thinking state leaders, resolute wind industry pioneers, and engaged stakeholders, this immense clean energy resource is finally within reach. This report documents the unique benefits of Atlantic offshore wind power and highlights key progress made to date, while identifying the critical actions state leaders must take to build on this foundation and finally bring this game-changing clean energy solution online.


Key report findings include:


  • Offshore Wind Can Supply Massive Amounts of Pollution-Free Power When and Where We Need It Most. All along the Atlantic coast lies a valuable energy resource that can provide clean power at times of peak energy demand. For example, meteorological towers have confirmed strong, consistent wind speeds off of New England and New York during critical high electricity demand periods when the most expensive and polluting power sources are used –– afternoons, summer heat waves, and winter cold snaps.


  • Areas Already Designated for Offshore Wind Power Development Could Power Over 5 Million Average American Households. The federal government has completed environmental reviews for over 1.5 million acres along the Atlantic coast with 16,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity generation potential, and has or is set to lease these areas to offshore wind developers for pre-development activities. This is a massive, local clean power opportunity currently available to state energy planners with the capacity to power the equivalent of all households in New Jersey and South Carolina combined.


  • Offshore Wind Power Could Save Millions as Part of a Diverse Energy Portfolio. Diversifying our energy mix is critical for protecting ratepayers from price spikes in the volatile fossil fuel markets. A new 2014 study estimates a $350 million per year reduction in energy costs from adding 1,200 MW of offshore wind energy to New England’s grid, a modest projection based on areas already designated for offshore wind development. This savings would result in a 2% reduction for ratepayers.


  • Offshore Wind Power Will Spur the Creation of Good-Paying Jobs. In Europe, 70 offshore wind projects across 10 countries are producing over 6,500 MW of power and currently supporting over 58,000 jobs in both coastal and inland communities. Today, offshore wind power is a booming global industry with over $20 billion in annual investments projected for the next 10 years. Due to the sheer size and complexity of offshore wind components and construction needs, this industry offers dramatic potential for new local job creation for America.


  • Offshore Wind Power Can Be Developed in an Environmentally Responsible Manner that Protects Wildlife. As decades of experience in Europe indicates, strong environmental requirements are needed to ensure that offshore wind power is sited, constructed, and operated in a manner that avoids, minimizes, or mitigates impacts to coastal and marine wildlife.


There is unprecedented momentum along the coast in advancing offshore wind power, with two projects within sight of the finish line and substantial areas of federal waters currently available for leasing. A review of progress to date finds:


  • Leading the Way: Massachusetts and Rhode Island are clearly leading America’s pursuit of offshore wind power with necessary leases, permits, and contracts in place for two projects to begin construction off their shores in 2015. Two large federal Wind Energy Areas have been designated off of southern New England, one of which has already been leased and the second is on track for leasing by the end 2014. The over 8,000 MW of electricity generation potential identified across these areas could provide a massive new clean energy source for New England as well as New York, given proximity to Long Island and a key opportunity presented by the Long Island Power Authority’s current “Request for Proposals” for 280 MW of local renewable energy.


  • Significant Momentum: Maryland has made major progress in pursuing offshore wind power, including passing a precedent-setting state policy in 2013 to incentivize 200 MW of offshore wind development. The federal government is set to hold a lease auction for the Maryland Wind Energy Area in August 2014.


  • Key Steps Forward: Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware have all taken key steps forward to pursue offshore wind power and initial progress has been achieved in terms of proposed projects, finalized and/or leased federal Wind Energy Areas, and key studies completed.


  • Initial Activities Underway: Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have offshore wind research and preliminary planning activities underway.


While there is much to celebrate in the progress key states have made in pursuit of offshore wind power, we are facing a critical moment to ensure America takes this great leap forward and fully ushers in the massive new clean energy source available off our shores. In order to move from the planning stages to actively developing America’s offshore wind resource at the scale that can deliver substantial environmental and economic benefits, state leadership is urgently needed to build long-term markets for offshore wind power.


NWF and our partners call on Atlantic Coast leaders to build on this foundation and take the following steps necessary to launch transformational offshore wind power for America:


  1. 1.     Set a bold goal for offshore wind power in the state’s energy plan.
  2. Take action to ensure a competitive market for offshore wind power by: passing and implementing policies to directly advance offshore wind power and reduce pollution across the electricity sector; pursuing regional market-building opportunities; and supporting key federal incentives.
  3. Advance critical contracts for offshore wind projects by facilitating and approving necessary power purchase contracts and rate recovery proposals, and pursuing regional procurement opportunities.
  4. Ensure an efficient, environmentally responsible leasing process by working closely with the federal government and key experts and stakeholders to ensure transparency and strong protections for coastal and marine wildlife as offshore wind development moves forward.
  5. Invest in key research, initiatives, and infrastructure helpful for advancing offshore wind development including baseline environmental data, stakeholder engagement initiatives, opportunities to maximize local supply chain and job creation, and upgrades to transmission or port facilities.