Why we are fighting for offshore wind power

For years, the National Wildlife Federation has called on our leaders in Washington and coastal states to seize the abundant clean energy potential in the wind off our shores. Until December 2016, offshore wind power was an untapped American opportunity. NWF saw the need to harness that energy, responsibly and sustainably, learning from our global counterparts. After all, Europe spent 25 years advancing offshore wind technology and building more than 3,000 turbines before we planted a single one on this side of the Atlantic.

Today, there is tremendous momentum behind U.S. offshore wind power. We have five turbines up and running at Rhode Island’s Block Island Wind Farm. Massachusetts and New York have committed to enough offshore wind development to power, collectively, well over a million homes. And the Interior Department has awarded 12 leases to developers for areas of federal water all along the east coast, most recently in North Carolina.

As states like Massachusetts and New York move forward on their commitments, the U.S. offshore wind industry is rapidly expanding. NWF is tracking progress and keeping wildlife and communities at the forefront of this important endeavor. We believe offshore wind power is worth advancing and we remain committed to scaling up this important wildlife-friendly source of renewable energy.

Why is offshore wind power so important for wildlife and communities?

Piping plover, Ipswich, Massachusetts

A piping plover runs along Crane Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Photo by Richard Seeley.

Our mission at NWF is to unite all Americans to ensure wildlife thrive in a rapidly changing world. It is among our top priorities to do all we can to combat the present and worsening threat of global warming. To do so we must dramatically reduce our reliance on one of climate change’s primary drivers: carbon-polluting fossil fuels. We need to embrace the clean, renewable energy resources available to us and ensure that they are developed responsibly, minimizing and mitigating impacts on wildlife and habitat.

In coastal states, offshore wind power is one the most valuable clean energy opportunities we have. With our largest urban centers and most strained energy markets located along the coast, offshore wind power is available right where it is needed. Offshore wind is reliable, inexhaustible, and uniquely able to rise to the scale of our energy needs. Moreover, it can replace polluting power plants as they retire, improve local air and water quality all while creating thousands of jobs. And since we’re getting in the game decades behind Europe, the cost of offshore wind power has dramatically declined, offering an increasingly affordable energy choice that will help buffer ratepayers from the volatile fossil fuel market.

How is NWF ensuring offshore wind power is wildlife-friendly?

NWF is committed to ensuring that as offshore wind power moves forward, the highest standards of wildlife protection are in place every step of the way. Because offshore wind power is new to the nation, we have the opportunity to do this right from the start. NWF is working closely with developers, state and federal government officials, conservation partners, and many ocean users to ensure that wildlife and habitat protection is considered at every decision point, from siting to construction, and ultimately during operation and maintenance of offshore wind projects.

Photo by Ed Lyman

Green Sea Turtle. Photo by Ed Lyman

NWF’s advocacy is consistent with ocean planning efforts all along the coast, including Rhode Island’s trailblazing Ocean Special Area Management Plan, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, the Northeast Ocean Plan, and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Action Plan.

Comprehensive and sound scientific data is the foundation of responsible offshore wind development. Our work is guided by data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the New England Aquarium, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, New Jersey’s Ocean/Wind Power Ecological Baseline Studies, and many others. New observations and planning efforts will continue to enrich and guide our advocacy for marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, birds, bats, and marine and coastal habitat.

Key Steps for Protecting Wildlife:

  1. Ensure all offshore wind project siting, construction and operations decisions are informed by the best available science, comprehensive input from all kinds of stakeholders, and latest ocean planning efforts.
  2. Avoid building in biologically sensitive areas including: shoals, boulder reefs, rocky cobble areas, the mouths of inlets, and other areas critical to wildlife migration, breeding, wintering, or other sensitive life stages.
  3. Steer projects further offshore to significantly reduce potential conflicts with birds.
  4. Ensure comprehensive pre- and post-construction monitoring programs to inform strategies for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating potential impacts to wildlife.
  5. Look at the big picture – including potential cumulative impacts of offshore wind projects as well as future shifts in wildlife ranges and other ecological changes that will result from climate change.

What is NWF doing to protect North Atlantic right whales?

North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered. Fewer than 500 are estimated to be alive today, so the loss of even one female could be devastating to the species. These majestic creatures migrate along the Atlantic Seaboard, and have been observed in and around areas designated for offshore wind development. Increased ship traffic and underwater noise from offshore wind survey and construction efforts pose a risk to right whales, as a result, extra precautions must be taken to minimize the potential impacts of these activities. NWF and our partners work to ensure these whales are protected through every stage of the development process as offshore wind leasing and projects advance.

North Atlantic Right Whale. Photo by New England Aquarium, Collected under NMFS permit 14233

North Atlantic Right Whale. Photo by New England Aquarium, Collected under NMFS permit 14233

America’s first offshore wind project has set a strong precedent for responsible offshore wind development. The Block Island Wind Farm – now up and running off the coast of Rhode Island – was developed with the highest standards of wildlife protection in place. Specifically, project developer Deepwater Wind worked closely with NWF and our partners to adjust their construction schedule to minimize risks to right whales and followed stringent protocols to ensure real-time actions were taken to protect whales as the turbines were being installed.

This success story builds on years of work to develop protocols for right whale protection throughout the offshore wind development process. In 2012, we negotiated a landmark agreement with three companies to voluntarily implement protective measures to reduce or avoid sound impacts from exploratory activities while determining where to build projects in the Mid-Atlantic region. Two years later, we collaborated on another agreement with Deepwater Wind to implement protective measures during pre-construction activities in their lease area off of southern New England.

In addition to working directly with developers, NWF and our partners are in regular dialogue with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and state officials regarding our recommendations for protecting whales and other wildlife. We submit comments at every relevant opportunity and organize meetings to bring the latest science and data to those making decisions about all offshore energy development. We also work at the state level to ensure adequate consideration of wildlife and habitat as states navigate challenges in bringing offshore wind power to shore through state waters and sensitive coastal areas.

America's first offshore wind turbine, Block Island Wind Farm. (Photo: Deepwater Wind)

America’s first offshore wind turbine, Block Island Wind Farm. (Photo: Deepwater Wind)

Questions about activities in your state or specific project proposals?

We’d love to fill you in on the details! Send us an email with questions, concerns, or to get involved.

What can we do to help offshore wind power move forward?

We are confident that offshore wind power can be among the most wildlife-friendly sources of energy available to us – at a time when cleaning up our energy sector has never been more urgent. It has a long way to go and needs all the support it can get as we chart a pollution-free, responsible energy future. We hope you’ll join us in calling on leaders at the city, state, and federal levels to set bold goals for offshore wind power and enact the policies needed to meet them. NWF is closely engaged all along the coast and are always looking for help raising the volume of our call to action. We hope you’ll join us!

Call on your governor to support offshore wind power!

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