Harnessing the Wind: The Growth of Offshore Wind Development Along the East Coast of the United States

Harnessing the Wind: The Growth of Offshore Wind Development Along the East Coast of the United States

There are three offshore wind farms operational in the United States today:the Block Island Wind Farm, which commenced operation in 2016; the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, which became operational in 2020; and most recently, the South Fork wind project, which was completed in March 2024. The development of further offshore wind projects, however, has faced a growing number of challenges. To begin with, the installation of large wind turbines at sea and the associated power cables placed undersea to transmit the electricity from the wind turbines to the land-based grid are very expensive, and high winds and heavy wave actions during storms and hurricanes can cause substantial damage to these costly turbines. Even once the project is approved and a developer has agreed to construct an offshore wind farm, many do not make it off the ground due to financial difficulties that arise later down the road. For example, at the end of 2023, two offshore wind projects off the coast of New Jersey, and three off the coast of New York were cancelled, citing project delays, permitting timelines, and supply chain issues, all of which made the projects financially too difficult for developers to continue. 

Despite the turmoil that we have seen around offshore wind projects, East Coast states and the Biden administration have publicly continued to commit to the development of offshore wind as part of overall efforts to address climate change.Since 2021, the Biden administration has approved eight offshore wind projects along the U.S. Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Virginia.

Together, these approved offshore wind projects are proposed to generate over 10,000 megawatts of renewable wind energy, which will help many states get closer to achieving their renewable energy goals. For example, Massachusetts has two approved offshore wind developments—the New England Wind project, approved in April of this year, and the Vineyard Wind project—which together are projected to generate 3,400 megawatts of renewable energy. Once completed, these wind farms will help Massachusetts reach its codified goal of receiving 5,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2027, and its broader goal of achieving "Net Zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Similarly, New York has three approved offshore wind developments: the South Fork Wind project, the Empire Wind project, and the Sunrise Wind project. These three offshore wind developments are expected to generate about 3,130 megawatts of electricity, contributing approximately a third towards the state's goal of generating 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035, and also contributing to the state's goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030. Other states, including Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Virginia have received approval for their own offshore wind developments, which will also assist in meeting their own renewable energy and offshore wind development goals. 

While there are still significant logistical and financial challenges associated with offshore wind developments, it is clear by the recent surge in interest for the development of offshore wind farms, that both the Federal and various state-level governments see a potential benefit despite these challenges. For communities, offshore wind developments have the potential to be less visually invasive, less noisy, and result in fewer land use conflicts. In addition, for the states, not only do offshore wind projects help to reach renewable energy targets, but these developments may also stimulate significant economic opportunities, with the creation of jobs and the need for significant capital expenditures for the engineering, manufacturing, construction, and services sectors. Growing concerns about climate change and air pollution have led many states to implement renewable energy goals, change policies and regulations, and introduce incentives to promote renewable energy generation. Despite the challenges that offshore wind developments have had in the past, the current trend among East Coast states suggests that offshore wind could still be a key source of this renewable energy generation. 

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