A report released by an environmental conservation organization recently describes the opportunity presented by offshore wind in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, and identifies federal and state policy action needed to realize this potential.
The National Wildlife Federation’s report, The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy (56-page PDF), concludes that “action is urgently needed to ensure that appropriately-sited offshore wind energy becomes a reality for America.” Among other solutions, the report calls for the establishment of a national priority to develop 54 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030.
The National Wildlife Federation describes itself as America’s largest conservation organization. Founded 75 years ago, the organization’s mission is “to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.”
Why, though, is a conservation organization calling for significant development of energy infrastructure in a place traditionally perceived as essential wilderness habitat? NWF explains that this seemingly dissonant stance rests on its view that global warming caused by increased carbon pollution is the single biggest threat to wildlife and wild places. According to the report, NWF believes that offshore wind can play a critical role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.In that spirit, NWF’s report walks readers through a logical progression of findings and calls for action. Relying heavily on studies and reports prepared by others – the report contains 259 endnote citations – NWF first presents estimates of the nation’s offshore wind resource.
Citing a 2010 report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the NWF report notes an estimated national offshore wind potential of over 4,000 gigawatts, with about 1,300 GW of potential capacity along the Atlantic coast. NWF notes that 12 countries have already developed offshore wind, with Europe hosting over 4,000 megawatts of operating offshore wind capacity and aiming for 40,000 MW by 2020. The report also points to other countries, such as China where 260 MW of offshore wind has been developed and goals target 5,000 MW by 2015 and 30,000 MW by 2020. By contrast, the U.S. has no operating offshore wind turbines.The report next presents an overview of the benefits of offshore wind.
Environmentally, NWF touts offshore wind as a clean alternative to coal and oil, reducing carbon emissions that cause climate change and ocean acidification, reducing air emissions of particulates and other pollutants that causes public health risks, and preserving wildlife habitat and water quality relative to petroleum, mining, and transportation. NWF argues that the development of a U.S. offshore wind industry will provide economic benefits, chiefly through job creation and lower, more predictable energy prices.
It notes that over 75,000 people are already employed in America’s onshore wind industry, including more than 30,000 manufacturing jobs, and that the potential is even greater. NWF cites the 2010 NREL study’s finding that building domestic offshore wind could add $200 billion in new economic activity and more than 43,000 permanent, high-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, engineering, operations, and maintenance. NWF also points to a study commissioned by the developer of the Atlantic Wind Connection offshore transmission grid suggesting that developing 7.7 GW of offshore wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic region could create over 300,000 jobs and a GDP-increase of $30 billion.
The report next finds that the U.S. has made significant progress in advancing appropriately sited offshore wind energy. It applauds measures taken by the U.S. Department of the Interior such as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Smart from the Start leasing initiative and the Department’s formation of the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium to facilitate regional coordination among ten coastal states.