Offshore wind energy has been substantially developed in Europe, with eight countries currently generating a total of nearly 1500 megawatts. Although an offshore wind project has not yet been completed in the United States, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have made agreements with private developers and/or completed environmental permitting for offshore wind developments. The offshore wind power potential of the mid-Atlantic region alone has been estimated at 330 gigawatts -- an amount that exceeds the total energy use of that region. The vast potential for offshore wind energy should be considered as Congress considers landmark legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote domestic renewable energy, create jobs, and invest in the national electric grid.

On July 17, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing to examine the potential to produce clean, renewable energy from offshore wind. The wind energy industry has grown rapidly in recent years; however most of this growth has been in land-based projects, particularly in the interior of the country. The offshore wind resources of the 28 coastal states (including Great Lakes states), which use 78 percent of the electricity in the United States, are enormous. Development of these resources in close proximity to population centers could reduce the need for new long-distance transmission lines and produce power that is cost-competitive with that from some coal-fired power plants. This briefing presented estimates of the total power available from offshore wind (using available technology and excluding shipping channels, bird flyways, and other areas of competing uses) and outlined the implications for transmission planning and local economic development.

  • Because of regional variation, the United States has no “silver bullet” renewable energy source. However, wind power was called “the nation’s biggest resource.” The Department of Energy has set a goal that 20 percent of U. S. power will be supplied from wind energy by 2030. Offshore wind is projected to supply 54,000 MW, about 20 percent of that target.
  • The oil resources in Mid-Atlantic continental shelf could power 30 percent of that region’s cars for 20 years. The Atlantic offshore wind resources could power the entire fleet for an unlimited period of time.
  • A practical site for wind farms is 12 nautical miles from the shoreline, where federal territory begins and the sightline vanishes.
  • Some states that lack sufficient onshore wind, such as New Jersey and Michigan, have strong offshore winds that equal or surpass the best onshore wind resources. Ten states, including Michigan, Ohio, and several Atlantic states, have enough offshore wind potential to supply 100 percent of their energy needs.
  • Building offshore wind farms cost more than onshore, but offshore wind has a higher capacity for production. An offshore wind farm can produce 100 to 600 MW of electricity.
  • New Jersey is investing in offshore wind to meet its Renewable Portfolio Standard of 30 percent by 2020 and address climate change.
  • Presently, installation and technological development of offshore wind are the main concerns, but transmission and energy storage will be major issues in the future.
  • Offshore wind is ripe for research and development because current plans adapt land models for use in the water. The typical wind turbine on today’s market produces only 3 MW, but European companies are developing 5 MW turbines, and potentially, turbines could generate as much as 10 MW.
  • Wave energy could be integrated with offshore wind technologies, especially as floating systems are developed further. Such a hybrid system would provide a more consistent source of electricity, since "yesterday's winds are today's waves".
  • The cost of a wind park ranges from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. The turbine and tower package, primarily manufactured overseas, accounts for 2/3 of the cost of a wind project.
  • New Jersey estimates that 800 jobs will be created with each new offshore wind park.
  • Public approval of offshore wind plants varies. While a project off Cape Cod encountered much opposition, a poll in Virginia Beach showed 90 percent public support for offshore wind farms and a coalition of area hotels signed a letter in support of exploring wind potential.
  • Speakers expressed concern that a federally-subsidized Green Power Superhighway would discourage growth in regional sectors and raise significant legal or political challenges. On the other hand, a transmission “backbone” joining wind farms on the East Coast could stabilize fluctuations in wind speed and reduce dependency on energy sources in the west.
  • Long term signals of federal support, such as long term extension of tax credits or power purchase agreements, are needed to reduce risk for investors in the offshore wind industry. One speaker made an analogy between the use of fossil fuels and subprime mortgages, whereas investing in wind energy is akin to taking out a fixed-rate mortgage.

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