Offshore Wind in the Atlantic: Growing Momentum for Jobs, Energy Independence, Clean Air, and Wildlife Protection

Released by: Environment America Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary

The Atlantic states are uniquely positioned to forge a clean, independent energy future. The region’s current dependence on fossil fuels has far-reaching and devastating impacts —– affecting residents’ health, draining their pocketbooks, causing air and water pollution, and warming the planet. Many Atlantic states have already become leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that create jobs, lower energy costs, cut pollution, and reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. These efforts will greatly benefit people and wildlife for generations to come.

It is time for Atlantic states to build on these successes by tapping one of the region’s most significant renewable resources: offshore wind. Key findings of this report include:

  • The vast wind resources of the Atlantic Ocean have not been tapped. In contrast, European countries have 948 turbines installed at 43 offshore wind farms and are producing over 2.3 gigawatts (GW), enough electricity to power 450,000 — 600,000 homes annually. China recently completed its first major offshore wind farm, totaling 102 megawatts (MW). Not a single offshore wind turbine is spinning off the Atlantic coast of the United States.
  • The European Union and China’s offshore wind goals dwarf those of the United States. The European Union and the European Wind Energy Association have set a target of 40 GW of offshore wind by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030. China has established a target of 30 GW of offshore wind by 2020.
  • The United States Department of Energy (USDOE) recently proposed the development of 10 GW of offshore wind by 2020 and 54 GW by 2030.
  • At over 212 GW of prime offshore wind potential, the Atlantic Ocean can become a major source of clean energy while creating jobs and economic growth across the region. A September, 2010, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report classified 1,283.5 GW of total potential offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean. NREL further classifies 212.98 GW of offshore wind potential in shallow waters with high wind speeds after environmental and socioeconomic factors are taken into account.
  • Approximately 6 GW of Atlantic offshore wind projects have been proposed or are advancing through the permitting process. Specifically, wind developers and the Atlantic states have proposed or advanced 5.32 – 6.47 GW of offshore wind projects, the equivalent of 4 – 6 average coal-fired power plants and enough to power roughly 1.5 million average U.S. homes annually (see Figure 4, p. 21). Generating this much electricity from fossil fuels would emit more than nine million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by close to two million cars annually.
  • Approximately 3 GW of Atlantic offshore wind projects are advancing through the permitting process. Of the 6 GW total, approximately half of the offshore wind projects have taken concrete steps forward on issues such as leasing, permitting, and power contracts. Specifically, 2.84 – 3.25 GW of offshore wind projects have been proposed while an additional 2.47 – 3.22 GW of projects are advancing (see Figure 4, p. 21).
  • According to NREL, the Atlantic States would generate $200 billion in new economic activity and create more than 43,000 permanent, high-paying jobs if 54 GW of the 212.98 GW of available offshore wind resources were utilized.
  • Offshore wind farms have significant environmental benefits over fossil fuel energy. 54 GW of offshore wind production would generate as much energy as is produced by 52 coal-fired plants in the United States each year. Generating an equivalent amount of electricity from fossil fuels would emit 97.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually —– the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by almost 17.7 million cars annually.
  • While the most extensive European study concluded that offshore wind farms do not appear to have long-term or large-scale ecological impacts, major data gaps for the Atlantic Ocean still exist and site-specific impacts need to be evaluated. A coordinated, comprehensive, and well-funded effort is needed to address these gaps and improve the permitting process. Such an effort would better inform the public and decision-makers on the extent of potential environmental impacts and benefits, reduce research costs and environmental requirements for project developers, increase community acceptance, and reduce risks to 
  • Tom Gilmore has been the President of the New Jersey Audubon Society since 1983. Under Tom’s leadership, New Jersey Audubon has become one of the most important conservation organizations in the country with over 70 staff. Selected as one of “101 Most Influential People in New Jersey” by New Jersey Monthly, Tom is also the author of many important books, including “Flyfisher’s Guide to the Big Apple. Great Waters Within 100 Miles of New York City,” “False Albacore: A Comprehensive Guide to Fly Fishing’s Hottest Fish,” and “Tuna On The Fly: A Comprehensive Guide to Fly Fishing’s Ultimate Trophy Fish.”

This report calls on government and stakeholders to create the political climate and economic conditions necessary to jumpstart the offshore wind industry in the Atlantic Ocean. A concerted, diverse, and well- organized effort is needed. This must include initiatives to:

1. Accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. The region’s economic and environmental future depends on increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy technologies.

2. Jumpstart the offshore wind industry and individual projects in the Atlantic Ocean by:

  • Improving the offshore wind permitting process;
  • Supporting policies and investments that spur offshore wind development;
  • Identifying and reviewing high priority zones off the Atlantic Coast with minimal conflict to the environment and to other ocean users that can be prioritized for quicker permitting;
  • Increasing research on offshore wind technologies and their associated benefits and risks, including wildlife and fishing impacts;
  • Advancing efforts to promote jobs from this industry, especially manufacturing and other high- paying jobs;
  • Promoting appropriately-sited offshore wind farms;
  • Coordinating regional planning and economic development, including ports, vessels, transmission investment, and other shared opportunities; and
  • Educating policymakers and the public about the benefits of offshore wind.

3. Ensure the protection of the Atlantic Ocean and its precious resources. While each Atlantic state is unique in terms of the availability of offshore wind, local politics, and mix of energy sources, the one constant should be a comprehensive effort to protect the Atlantic Ocean as a priceless and connected ecosystem.

Offshore wind can help protect the Atlantic Ocean from climate change and studies show that projects can be sited to avoid large-scale and long-term ecological impacts.

4. Create a diverse and powerful Atlantic offshore wind network. In order to realize the full potential of offshore wind, organizations (including labor representatives, conservation groups, community groups, commercial and recreational fisherman, consumer organizations, and businesses) must create a clear regional vision for Atlantic offshore wind and create the political power needed to advance key policies and projects.

Written by The National Wildlife Federation

Cosponsors: The National Wildlife Federation, Environment America, Utility Workers Union of America (AFL-CIO) and The Audubon Society.