Offshore wind energy has felt just out of America’s reach for quite some time now.  While Europe has more than fifty projects up and running off their shores, here in the U.S. we are struggling to catch up.  Resistance to a tried and true clean energy source – largely funded by fossil fuel interests – has kept us from capitalizing on an industry that will create jobs, promote clean air and water, and protect future generations of wildlife and people from the dangers of climate change.  Findings released this week of the impacts of warming water on the puffin population add yet another underline to the emphasis of just how important it is to really build momentum for clean energy.  Fortunately, that is finally about to happen.

Rhode Island and Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (BOEM)
Rhode Island and Massachusetts Wind Energy Area (BOEM)
Responsibly sited offshore wind power must be a significant component of our clean energy future—and today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) took a huge step forward in making this a reality.  This morning, news broke that BOEM has scheduled a first-ever renewable energy lease sale on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.  On July 31, 164,750 acres off of Rhode Island and Massachusetts will be auctioned for commercial wind energy leasing. BOEM indicates this area could produce enough energy to power 1.2 million homes – a huge contribution to meeting the region’s energy demand.

“This is history in the making as we mark yet another major milestone in the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy.  Today we are moving closer to tapping into the enormous potential offered by offshore wind to create jobs, increase our sustainability, and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier.”

– Secretary Sally Jewell, Department of the Interior

This announcement follows months of evaluation by BOEM, as well as the vision, leadership, and commitment of the state governments in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, to identify low-conflict areas for offshore wind energy projects and review potential impacts of development activities on marine life in the designated Wind Energy Area.  Looking ahead, National Wildlife Federation will closely examine the project proposals that come forward to ensure that wildlife protections are included as this process unfolds.

The Interior Department and BOEM took great initiative today, and now we need to ensure that this momentum inspires the necessary follow-through from Congressional and state leaders to make offshore wind a reality.

“As hurricane season begins with superstorm Sandy fresh in the minds of Atlantic Coast residents, the need to cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution is more urgent than ever. Offshore wind power is a golden opportunity to clean our skies and power our future with clean, locally-produced energy – all that’s needed is the political willpower to make it happen.  As the Department of the Interior moves forward with the nation’s first offshore wind lease auction, significant leadership from state governments as well as Congress is urgently needed to ensure we harness this massive clean energy resource sitting right off our shores.”

– Catherine Bowes, Senior Manager, Climate & Energy, National Wildlife Federation

Recent progress in New England gives more cause to celebrate, and suggest that the pieces of this puzzle are starting to come together.

New findings reveal puffins may be on the front lines of climate change (flickr/Billtacular)
New findings reveal puffins may be on the front lines of climate change (flickr/Billtacular)
Less than a month ago, Massachusetts hosted a ground breaking ceremony at the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal – the country’s first terminal constructed to deploy offshore wind turbines. Inspired by similar efforts abroad, New Bedford’s infrastructure investment is bringing fresh economic development opportunities to a city that could really use it, hopefully modeling the opportunity for other ports to follow.  Coupled with today’s lease sale announcement, we will see if it bodes true that “if we build it, they will come.”

Another first came last week, thanks to the leadership and innovation of the University of Maine.  The University’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center  launched a prototype of a floating wind turbine into the waters off the coast of Castine, Maine.  The first of its kind globally, this floating platform turbine is also the first offshore wind turbine to connect to the United States grid.  The Department of Energy acknowledged the significance of this small-scale inaugural project.  Director of the Energy Department’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, Jose Zayas, commented that “the Castine offshore wind project represents a critical investment to ensure America leads in this fast-growing global industry.”

The U.S. certainly remains far from claiming leadership on offshore wind, but getting a model turbine in the water offers a tangible symbol to the global community that we are getting serious.  Establishing the infrastructure to deploy more projects, and auctioning areas of the ocean, help strengthen the message that we do not intend to let this opportunity pass us by.

What’s next?

Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, Denmark (flickr/Kim Hansen)
Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, Denmark (flickr/Kim Hansen)
We need congressional leadership.  Our leaders on Capitol Hill need to make offshore wind energy to a priority, in order to spur the first-movers in this industry to reach this clean energy frontier.  Today, that means supporting the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act in both the House and the Senate, by offering an investment tax credit to those willing to fund moving the nation toward this increasingly important goal.

State leaders along the coast also need to step up and ensure offshore wind power is part of our energy future. Now is the time for bold commitments to bring offshore wind energy on-line.

Today’s news from BOEM is just the latest sign of progress in America’s pursuit of this massive clean energy frontier.  Let’s make sure that we build on these successes, and gather them into a collected stride toward the clean energy future that is in everyone’s best interest.  Let’s send our thanks to Secretary Jewell, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and  the New Bedford leadership, Governor Lincoln Chafee,and the University of Maine, but most importantly, let’s make sure Congress and our state leaders know we expect the same from them.

Take Action ButtonSend a message to BOEM, thanking them for this step in the right direction and urging them to keep up the momentum on offshore wind energy!