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According to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), more than 1.5 million acres off the Atlantic coast are already designated for offshore wind energy development and could generate more than 16 GW of electricity.

The report, Catching the Wind: State Actions Needed to Seize the Golden Opportunity of Atlantic Offshore Wind Power, underscores the potential economic and environmental benefits if offshore wind resources off the Atlantic coast were maximized. According to the NWF, offshore wind can do the following:

Power more than 5 million American homes. As a result of significant federal leadership, there is a massive, local clean power opportunity currently available to state energy planners with the capacity to power the equivalent of all households in New Jersey and South Carolina combined. What’s needed now is action by state leaders to drive offshore wind markets and spur critical project contracts forward.

Save millions as part of a diverse energy portfolio. Diversifying the East Coast’s energy mix is critical for protecting ratepayers from price spikes in the volatile fossil fuel markets. The report highlights a new 2014 study finding a $350 million-per-year reduction in energy costs from adding 1,200 MW of offshore wind energy to New England’s grid.

Spark massive job creation in the U.S. In Europe, 70 offshore wind projects across 10 countries are currently supporting over 58,000 jobs in both coastal and inland communities. Today, offshore wind power is a booming global industry with over $20 billion in annual investments projected for the next 10 years.

Help states meet new carbon pollution limits. Coastal states have a massive, untapped, pollution-free energy source sitting right off their shores that can play a major role in meeting the carbon emission reduction targets required by the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan released last month.

Remain an environmentally responsible energy choice. As decades of experience in Europe indicate strong environmental requirements can ensure that offshore wind power is sited, constructed and operated in a manner that protects coastal and marine wildlife. This immense clean energy source offers an incredible opportunity to reduce the pollution that threatens current and future generations of people and wildlife.

In fact, the report mentions that two offshore wind projects are on track for construction in 2015: Cape Wind in Massachusetts and the Deepwater Wind’s Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Block Island. The NWF says that permits and/or leases and power contracts are in hand and offshore construction will begin next year.

However, thanks to the cost of offshore wind power and uneven state policies, progress has been rocky. The report recommends five key actions required by Atlantic Coast leaders:
  • Set a bold goal for offshore wind power in state energy plans.
  • Take action to ensure a competitive market for offshore wind power by passing and implementing policies to directly advance offshore wind power and reduce pollution across the electricity sector, pursuing regional market-building opportunities and supporting key federal incentives.
  • Advance critical contracts for offshore wind projects, including facilitating and approving necessary power purchase agreements and rate recovery proposals and pursuing regional procurement opportunities.
  • Ensure an efficient, environmentally responsible leasing process by working closely with the federal government, key experts and stakeholders to ensure transparency and strong protections for coastal and marine wildlife as offshore wind development moves forward.
  • Invest in key research, initiatives and infrastructure that is helpful for advancing offshore wind development, including baseline environmental data, stakeholder engagement initiatives, opportunities to maximize local supply chain and job creation, and upgrades to transmission or port facilities.

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