Feds Announce Bold New Strategy for Offshore Wind Development

Phelps Turner | @phelpsturner

In the latest step toward implementing President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Interior (DOI) have issued a joint National Offshore Wind Strategy aimed at accelerating the deployment of large numbers of wind turbines off the coast of New England, in the Great Lakes, and along other parts of the U.S. coastline. The Strategy builds on the first national offshore wind strategy issued in 2011, and contributes to a key goal of the Climate Action Plan: cutting carbon pollution while creating jobs.

At its core, the Strategy highlights the economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind, and presents a roadmap for mitigating environmental risks, reducing deployment costs, and increasing regulatory predictability. If fully implemented, the Strategy could generate millions in tax and lease payments, support the creation of thousands of jobs, and enable the deployment of 86 GW of offshore wind by 2050, or the equivalent of 7% of U.S. electricity consumption.

CLF applauds the new Strategy as a key step forward in developing renewable energy resources in the U.S. At CLF, we’re working to battle climate change by, among other things, pushing for policies and projects that boost locally made, clean, renewable energy, save families and businesses money, and create jobs. In particular, CLF supports policies in each New England state that provide incentives for clean energy generation, including renewable portfolio standards (RPS) programs, which require that a certain amount of electricity be generated from renewable sources. While the Strategy lacks specific benchmarks and deadlines that would allow for tracking the progress of offshore wind development, it does promote the expansion of offshore wind while recognizing key areas for improvement.

New England Plays a Key Role in the Offshore Wind Strategy

New England has played a central role in the early stages of offshore wind development in the U.S., and it plays a key role in the new Strategy, which seeks to build on the region’s successes and learn from its failures. Just recently, Deepwater Wind successfully embarked upon the final stages of construction of its 5-turbine, 30-MW Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. The wind farm is scheduled to be commissioned later this fall, and will be the first ever in the U.S. In addition, plans to develop large-scale offshore wind are advancing in the federal wind energy areas further offshore of Rhode Island and Massachusetts where leases are held by Deepwater Wind, DONG Energy, and Offshore MW. Meanwhile, Cape Wind was forced to shelve its plans for a 130-turbine, 486-MW wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, despite having successfully fended off more than 20 lawsuits over the last decade.

Maximizing the Benefits of Offshore Wind in New England and Elsewhere

 New England stands to benefit greatly from the Obama administration’s plan for further offshore wind deployment. As the Strategy indicates, if the U.S. were to take full advantage of its offshore wind energy potential, it could generate 2,058 GW of electricity. Developing that potential is predicted to drive savings in electricity prices, generate millions in property tax and lease payments, and support thousands of jobs.

In addition, offshore wind farms will be located near big cities along the coast. These large urban areas use more electricity and their residents pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Because offshore wind farms will be physically close to these areas, transmitting energy to them will cost than when it has to travel many miles over poles and wires. Our current system, in which electricity is sent a long distance over transmission lines, is one of the factors that has led to higher energy prices for electricity consumers.

The Strategy also emphasizes that the value of offshore wind extends well beyond its economic benefits. In particular, offshore wind energy is low in carbon, which means fewer climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions and less air pollution from dirty energy sources. Wind energy will also lower water consumption by the electric power sector. New England and the surrounding states stand to be the beneficiaries of these environmental and public health benefits.

Mitigating the Risks and Reducing the Costs of Offshore Wind

The Strategy acknowledges three critical challenges associated with offshore wind that must be overcome, and for which incentives must be created, and proposes 34 action items to meet them:

  • Reducing Costs and Technology Risks. The Strategy recognizes that the costs of developing and installing offshore wind must come down, and aims to reduce those costs through investments in technological advancement. It also points to cost reductions occurring in Europe, and notes that U.S. developers will be able to leverage the European offshore wind experience to reduce their own costs and make offshore wind competitive. CLF recently blogged about the successes of European offshore wind in Denmark.
  • Supporting Effective Stewardship. As part of the Strategy, the DOE and DOI seek to support the stewardship of U.S. waters by ensuring efficiency, consistency, clarity, and certainty in the regulatory process, including more predictable project review timelines. For instance, the Strategy notes proposals for enhancing the coordination of lease area identification and for baseline assessments and monitoring of fish, bird, and marine mammal populations.
  • Increasing Understanding of the Benefits and Costs. The Strategy also calls for further studies concerning the interconnection and integration of offshore wind energy onto the grid, and for better measures of the environmental and economic costs and benefits. For example, connecting wind energy to the grid can be expensive for developers, creating high up-front costs that can kill a project before it even begins. The Strategy calls for proposals for research on how to reduce these initial capital costs in order to lower the financial barriers faced by developers and speed up offshore wind farm development.

Looking forward, implementation of the new Strategy should help to make offshore wind an important component of the energy portfolio in New England and elsewhere. And none too soon. In some states, offshore wind now must be a part of the energy portfolio. For instance, in July, the Massachusetts legislature passed legislation that requires the state to procure 1,600 MW of offshore wind by 2027, which is enough to power 1 million homes in the state.

The new National Offshore Wind Strategy lacks specific deadlines for its goals and action items, but by seeking to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind – and following on the heels of the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Agreement – it serves as the latest potential weapon in the fight against climate change.

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