With White House Summit Today, and a Summer of Progress, Offshore Wind Power in the US Gains Momentum

Momentum for offshore wind power in the United States is starting to build again, after a historic summer that included the start of construction for the first U.S. offshore wind project and with a big week for offshore wind power ahead. Today, I'll be attending the first-ever White House Summit on Offshore Wind, which will bring together federal and state policy makers and clean energy advocates like NRDC to chart a path forward for offshore wind. And on Tuesday and Wednesday, my NRDC colleague Doug Sims and I will be joining hundreds of offshore wind leaders and clean energy advocates to further build the momentum for offshore wind at the annual American Wind Energy Association offshore wind conference, in Baltimore.

The wind power resources off America's coasts are very rich, indeed. So much so that, according to U.S. Department of Energy research, the waters off the Atlantic coast alone can easily host at least 54 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to power nearly 17 million homes. What's technically possible--what we energy wonks call the "technical potential" of offshore wind power--in all federal and state waters is far higher. By developing that potential, we can more simply supply clean energy to grid-constrained population centers along America's coasts. We can save Americans billions of dollars on energy, improve our health, and decrease our healthcare costs by giving our kids and our seniors cleaner air to breathe. We can create thousands of new jobs. In fact, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that, by 2030, the offshore wind industry can support more than 30,000 jobs in the mid-Atlantic region alone. And, importantly, we can pro-actively take on the climate challenge that is our generation's problem to solve.

You might have read about how, thanks to government support that helps level the playing field for clean energy, onshore wind power and solar energy are growing like gangbusters here in the U.S. This summer's events show just how much progress the offshore wind industry is making, too, both here and abroad:

• In July, Deepwater Wind began construction on foundations for five, 6-megawatt turbines in the waters off Block Island, Rhode Island--the first US offshore wind power project to put steel in the water. These turbines will supply most of Block Island's electricity and cut electric rates there by an estimated 40 percent. Deepwater has also committed to measures that will ensure the safety of the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

• In the six months that ended in June, European countries installed more offshore wind power than during any other six-month period in history, with 2.3 gigawatts of pollution-free electricity coming online, the European Wind Energy Association reported in August. That's enough to power 1.6 million homes. This year's construction so far brings Europe's offshore wind power total to more than 10 gigawatts, with 82 wind projects across 11 countries. And there's much more in the offing, with 5 gigawatts planned for 2017 and 15 gigs slated for 2018.

• In Oregon, there's an exciting effort to develop a demonstration project for floating offshore wind turbines that could revolutionize the industry by allowing for installations in deep water further offshore.

• With the support of a recent Department of Energy grant, New York State is launching a regional effort, together with the states of Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, to scale up offshore wind in the Northeast.

• New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced an initiative to secure 100 percent of the electricity used for city government operations from renewable electricity within a decade and has signaled a strong interest in offshore wind power.

Though progress in getting the American offshore wind power industry off the drawing boards and into the water has been a long time in coming, we're gaining momentum at last. With the right policy support, at both the federal and the state level, we can energize sustainable offshore wind and move forward now.