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How Might the 2020 Presidential Election Impact Offshore Wind Development in the U.S.?

  • The United States lags far behind Europe in offshore wind, though several developments are now in planning in the Northeast
  • Department of Energy estimates offshore wind could generate more than enough electricity to meet U.S. consumer needs
  • Biden has set a goal of a carbon-free electric sector by 2035, while Trump Administration has shown some support for offshore wind after initial reticence

As offshore wind development begins to accelerate in the Northeast, the upcoming presidential election may help determine how quickly turbines will begin to appear in Atlantic waters. However, other factors may play a greater role in affecting the timeline of these developments.

The United States lags far behind Europe in offshore wind development, boasting only five wind turbines off Block Island compared to more than 5,000 in European waters. Yet the potential for development is there, with the Department of Energy estimating that offshore wind could generate twice as much electricity as what the nation uses. Numerous wind farms are in planning off the Atlantic coast, and several states on the Eastern Seaboard have set targets for how much of their energy should be generated by offshore wind – 2 gigawatts by 2030 in Connecticut.

Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden has committed to a goal of having the U.S. get all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035, raising the possibility that offshore wind development will proceed more aggressively if he is elected. The Trump Administration has been more reticent about offshore wind, with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt slowing down a project off Martha’s Vineyard and commenting that offshore wind projects were proceeding too quickly. Yet Bernhardt has since expressed his support for more wind, the the Department of the Interior has developed a streamlined federal review process that can speed up large-scale projects.

While the hope is that the offshore wind industry could generate thousands of jobs as well as onshore economic investment, several factors could affect how quickly or widely it is implemented. These include ongoing concerns that the turbines will disrupt commercial fishing grounds, worries by some environmentalists that large-scale wind development could affect the ocean ecosystem, and complications in the permitting and approval process due to the involvement of both state and federal government.

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