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October 29, 2013

Clean Energy’s Sleeping Giant Awakens

Last week, Oceana partnered with the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in putting on their annual Offshore WindPower Conference and Exhibition in Providence, Rhode Island. The conference was a complete success and it was clear for any attendee that offshore wind energy, one of the most abundant clean energy resources, is finally starting to take off in the U.S. High profile speakers, including the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Governor Lincoln Chafee, spoke enthusiastically about the enormous potential of offshore wind, both as a clean energy resource and as a job creator.

And they couldn’t have chosen a better location for the conference, either. Rhode Island just made offshore wind history as the site for the nation’s first competitive offshore wind lease sale. If fully developed, offshore wind energy in the area off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island could power about 350,000 homes and displace over 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

The second competitive offshore wind lease sale also occurred this past year for an area twenty-seven miles off the coast of Virginia. Development of an offshore wind farm in Virginia could power over half of a million homes and create much needed diversity to the electrical grid. The dominoes are falling in the right direction, and three more competitive lease sales are expected this next year in Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, as announced by Secretary Jewell herself.

Several pilot projects also moved forward this past year, including the nation’s first installed offshore wind turbine off the coast of Maine. Another small project near Block Island, Rhode Island, is expected to begin construction by the end of this year. This wind farm would be an incredible environmental boon, replacing one million gallons of diesel fuel the Island currently uses as its primary energy source with clean, renewable offshore wind energy.

The recent announcements in the U.S. offshore wind industry are great news for combating the effects of global climate change, transitioning to a clean energy future, stabilizing energy prices, and creating thousands of good-paying American jobs, but to date there is still only one functioning offshore wind turbine off our shores, and even that is just a prototype. We need forward-thinking and strong political will in Congress to keep this sleeping giant of clean energy awake for generations to come.

The most critical federal policy to help jumpstart a thriving offshore wind industry is the long-term eligibility of an Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and this is something that Congress can provide right now. If the U.S. wants a thriving offshore wind industry spinning off its shores, a long-term extension of the ITC for offshore wind is crucial. The Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act, introduced in both the House and the Senate, will provide a long-term extension of the ITC past this year’s expiration date, but it needs more support in Congress. Tell your representative in Congress to cosponsor this important piece of legislation today.