Chart: How 11 states are building the US offshore wind industry from scratch

Dozens of offshore wind farms are proposed for the East Coast and beyond. The country will still lag behind Asia and Europe — but it’s a start.

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The United States has long been relegated to the role of spectator amid the global offshore wind boom, watching from the sidelines as countries in Europe and Asia put thousands of turbines in their waters over the last decade. Now a number of U.S. states are finally poised to join in, with more than 35 gigawatts of offshore wind projects in their combined pipeline, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

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The growing project pipeline comes as the Biden administration aims to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity nationwide by 2030. Eight states have set their own targets for procuring power from offshore wind farms, which collectively would put 39.3 gigawatts of capacity in the water by 2040.

If all the offshore wind projects now in the pipeline are actually built, and built on time, the United States stands a solid chance of meeting those targets. But the industry is starting practically from scratch.

Only two offshore wind projects currently operate off America’s shores: a 30-megawatt wind farm near Block Island, Rhode Island and a 12-megawatt pilot project in coastal Virginia — and they’re both so small that they’re almost imperceptible in the chart above. 

Looking forward, just two planned commercial-scale projects have received full federal approval: the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and the 132-megawatt South Fork Wind farm near Long Island, New York. The proposed projects that make up the remaining 34.3 gigawatts of potential generating capacity are in the earlier phases of planning, site control and permitting. All of them — save for a demonstration project off the Ohio coast of Lake Erie — are planned for the relatively shallow waters off the U.S. East Coast, though developers are also exploring putting floating turbines near California and Hawaii. 

The industry must clear many hurdles to get these wind farms from the planning phase to operation. The DOE’s 2021 Offshore Wind Market Report warns that fluctuating policy support, constrained global supply chains and onshore grid limitations could pose challenges that temper the industry’s progress.” 

Even so, analysts at BloombergNEF are projecting significant growth in the U.S. offshore wind industry, though their forecast for 2030 is 4 gigawatts lower than the Biden administration’s goal. Overall, the environment for offshore wind is just a lot better now than it was even several years ago,” Chelsea Jean-Michel, a wind energy analyst at BloombergNEF, said in an interview.

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Maria Gallucci is a clean energy reporter at Canary Media, where she covers hard-to-decarbonize sectors and efforts to make the energy transition more affordable and equitable.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial and research associate at Canary Media.