The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy

Time for Action to Create Jobs, Reduce Pollution, Protect Wildlife, and Secure America’s Energy Future

As America struggles to revitalize our economy, create jobs, secure an energy independent future, and protect our communities and wildlife from the dangers of climate change, one energy source offers a golden opportunity to power our homes and businesses without creating more pollution – Atlantic offshore wind.


Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center, National Wildlife Federation

Executive Summary

As America struggles to revitalize our economy, create jobs, secure an energy independent future, and protect our communities and wildlife from the dangers of climate change, one energy source offers a golden opportunity to power our homes and businesses without creating more pollution – Atlantic offshore wind. 

America has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world, particularly along the Atlantic coast where over 1,300 gigawatts (GW) of energy generation potential has been identified. Harnessing just a fraction of our offshore wind resource – 52 GW – could power about 14 million U.S. homes with local, pollution-free energy while creating over $200 billion in new economic activity along the coast.

Offshore wind energy is a real, viable option for America and it’s ready right now. Europe has been building offshore wind energy for over a decade, and is currently producing enough electricity from offshore wind to power 4 million homes. Around the globe, countries are increasingly looking to their offshore winds as a safe, reliable energy source that has tremendous economic development benefits.

Here in America, offshore wind energy is at a turning point. While we do not have a single offshore wind turbine spinning off our shores, recent actions by the federal government, along with bipartisan leadership from coastal state officials, have put critical building blocks in place – bringing us closer than ever before to finally tapping this massive domestic energy source. Looking forward, action is urgently needed to ensure that appropriately-sited offshore wind energy becomes a reality for America.

Key findings of this report include:

America Has Made Significant Progress in Advancing Appropriately-sited Offshore Wind Energy

The Federal government is leading an ambitious initiative to deliver offshore wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean, with leases expected this year:

  • Task Forces are underway in 10 Atlantic Coast states – Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina – to ensure coordination among state, federal, tribal, and local officials throughout the offshore wind energy leasing process.
  • Over 2,000 sq. nautical miles of federal waters with high wind speeds and low potential conflicts have been designated for wind energy development off of 6 states. Environmental reviews that have been completed for these areas have found that no significant impacts will result from granting leases to developers to collect data needed for their project designs. Industry competition is intense, with as many as 11 companies lined up to bid for leases in some states this year.
  • The federal government is also currently reviewing lease applications for a utility-scale project in New York, a floating turbine demonstration project in Maine, and an undersea transmission line from Virginia to New York.

Many coastal states are leading the way in building a clean energy future with offshore wind: 

  • After over a decade, the Cape Wind project proposed for Massachusetts is within sight of the finish line and expected to begin construction in 2013. Project proposals for state waters in Rhode Island and New Jersey are also advancing through the permitting process.
  • Three states – Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey – have set specific goals for offshore wind energy generation off their shores.
  • New Jersey, under the Christie Administration, has specifically provided incentives for offshore wind development and investment. This is precisely the type of leadership needed along the coast and at the federal level to jumpstart a robust offshore wind industry in America. Governor O’Malley has been pushing for a similar measure in Maryland, which is expected to be considered by the state legislature in 2013.
  • Nine states along the coast – from Maine to Delaware – have prioritized clean energy by requiring a certain percentage of the state’s power be generated from renewable sources. The New England Governors recently signed an agreement to pursue a coordinated strategy to purchase renewable energy.
  • Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have pursued critical research and planning efforts to facilitate sound siting decisions, and similar efforts are underway in New York and Maryland.

Offshore Wind Energy Can Be Developed in a Manner that Protects Wildlife.

  • Europe has been producing energy from its offshore wind resources for over two decades, and has been able to avoid and minimize many of the impacts to wildlife. For example, Danish research shows that birds have a strong tendency to avoid offshore wind energy turbines.
  • While conditions are different here in the U.S, initial research on birds, bats, sea turtles, and marine mammals off our coast suggests that we can achieve the same result if leasing decisions are based on sound science and informed by key experts and stakeholders. Specifically, data shows that bird density is significantly lower in offshore environments farther from shore.
  • All energy sources have some impact on wildlife, but research shows that appropriately-sited and mitigated offshore wind energy is a much safer bet than fossil fuels.

A Thriving Offshore Wind Industry Will be an Economic Powerhouse for America.

  • America’s wind industry currently employs over 75,000 people, and research shows that approximately 300,000 jobs and over $200 billion in new economic activity could result from a robust American offshore wind industry.
  • In addition to supporting thousands of jobs to design, construct, and operate offshore wind energy projects, substantial industrial manufacturing jobs will be needed to produce turbines, foundations, blades, sub-stations, and cables along the coast.
  • Over 40,000 people are currently employed in the offshore wind industry in Europe, with over 300,000 jobs expected by 2020.

Offshore Wind Energy Can Provide Affordable, Reliable Power When and Where We Need it Most

  • America’s immense offshore wind resource lies in close proximity to some of our biggest cities, presenting an opportunity to utilize clean energy to meet the growing demand for power along the East Coast.
  • Offshore winds blow strongest during the day and at other times of peak demand such as heat waves, as documented by real-time wind monitors off Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
  • Plugging offshore wind into the grid will lead to lower, more predictable energy prices over time. For example, the New York Independent System Operator has found that for every 1,000 MW of wind on the system, consumers save $300 million in wholesale energy costs.
  • While natural gas prices are currently at historical lows, the region needs to make energy investment decisions for the next several decades. By diversifying the region’s energy portfolio, offshore wind energy presents an opportunity for utilities to lock in at a known price for the long term, creating a hedge to protect against future fossil fuel price spikes.
  • Industry trends driving down the cost of offshore wind energy include moving toward larger projects farther offshore in order to access economies of scale, a higher wind resource, and areas with fewer conflicts.

Urgent action is needed to build on this momentum and ensure that offshore wind energy becomes a reality for America. State and federal leaders should take the following actions to bring this new clean energy source ashore:

  1. Set a bold goal for offshore wind energy development in the Atlantic Ocean, in order to provide clear leadership and vision regarding the important role offshore wind must play in America’s energy future and demonstrate that this is a high priority for the federal government and each Atlantic Coast state.
  1. Take decisive action to advance offshore wind energy development and jumpstart markets for this emerging industry. Specific actions critically needed to level the playing field for clean energy and create an opportunity for offshore wind power to become a major source of electricity for America include:
  • Prioritize renewable energy generation – and offshore wind power specifically – through policies such as a renewable electricity standard, in order to send a clear market signal to encourage investment in offshore wind energy.
  • Extend critically-needed tax incentives including the federal Investment Tax Credit for offshore wind, as well as the Production Tax Credit and Advanced Energy Project Credit needed to support domestic supply chain manufacturing opportunities for wind energy.
  • Take direct action to secure buyers for offshore wind power, including pursuing coordinated procurement strategies among key state and federal entities. State leadership is particularly critical for facilitating and approving power purchase contracts with local utilities.
  • Increase funding to the Departments of Energy and Interior and relevant state agencies to support needed research and facilitate the efficient deployment of offshore wind energy, in order to avoid subsequent impairment of needed financing and power purchase agreements.
  • Enact policies requiring stringent pollution reductions from all power sources, including limits on carbon pollution and other strong air, water, and waste management safeguards for the mining and burning of all fuel sources.
  1. Ensure that offshore wind projects are sited, constructed, and operated responsibly in order to protect wildlife and avoid conflicts with other ocean uses. All offshore wind energy leases must contain clear and enforceable requirements to protect wildlife, and key state and federal agencies must have sufficient resources to collect needed data and manage the leasing process for multiple areas along the coast.
  1. Increase stakeholder coordination and public engagement throughout the process to achieve all of the above. Offshore wind energy development decisions should be coordinated with federal, state, tribal, and regional coastal and marine spatial planning efforts in a manner that is consistent with the goals of America’s National Ocean Policy and includes significant stakeholder and public input.

America has made significant progress over the last two years in pursuing offshore wind energy, but we still have a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world and finally harness our largest untapped energy source. Leadership by the states and federal government is critically needed to build on this momentum if we are to make the most of the golden energy opportunity sitting right off our shores.