America has a largely untapped potential for offshore wind power, according to a report released Wednesday that also calls for a more aggressive approach for wind power development off the Atlantic coast.
The report calls for a permitting process that's friendlier to offshore wind power, establishment of priority zones for offshore wind, more research on offshore wind technologies, and efforts to promote quality jobs, especially in manufacturing, that would result from that industry.
The report was prepared by the National Wildlife Federation and co-sponsored by more than 35 other organizations, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Environment Maine. The Maine AFL-CIO supports its findings.
The report, unveiled in Portland, surfaced barely a week after U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised to spur offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean by expediting permits and identifying promising areas for wind power. He promised a "smart permitting process" that could result in leases issued within two years, instead of seven years or more.
The University of Maine has received more than $20 million in federal funding for its work on offshore wind power. Its Advanced Structures and Composites Center plans to have the first small-scale offshore wind farm, with five 5-megawatt turbines, operating between 2014 and 2016 and a farm with 200 turbines up and running by 2020.
The wind farms would be 10 to 50 miles offshore, out of sight from land. Four large-scale, land-based wind farms, including New England's largest, also operate in Maine and more are under construction or proposed.
Of the 212 gigawatts of wind power potential off the Atlantic coast, wind projects harnessing 6 gigawatts have been proposed or are advancing through the permitting process, according to the report. Those proposed projects would generate the equivalent of up to a half dozen coal-fired plants, enough to supply the needs of about 1.5 million homes annually.
"Not a single offshore wind turbine is spinning off the Atlantic coast of the United States," the report says.
While Atlantic wind resources are largely untapped, European countries have more than 900 turbines producing enough power for at least 450,000 homes. Even offshore wind-power goals of European countries and China dwarf those of the United States.
Offshore wind offsets the need for fossil fuels such as coal and oil, whose consumption leads to environmental damage, including global warming, and a range of public health risks including thousands of premature deaths, says the report. The development of an offshore wind industry would create thousands of jobs.
In Maine alone, the Ocean Energy Task Force says development of 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind would create 16,700 new or retained jobs per year for 20 years. The report also cites studies showing a potential for roughly 10,000 jobs in Virginia and nearly 2,000 jobs in South Carolina resulting from offshore wind.
The report lists proposed projects, or projects that have moved to advanced steps such as leasing or power contracts, in 13 East Coast states. Besides Maine, they include New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.