Obama’s Ocean task force holds promise for clean American energy

In the wake of the international conference in Copenhagen to address climate change, and amidst the President’s commitment to moving toward a clean energy economy here at home, developing offshore renewable energy has become more critical than ever. In fact, last month the Obama administration gathered a summit of East Coast governors to discuss harvesting the wind energy potential that lies just off our shores. And even lesser known—the administration is already making progress toward developing this clean energy by drafting a new national policy for America’s oceans.

Within this effort, the President has set out to create a planning process for better addressing both the industrial uses and environmental needs of the sea. As developers considering projects along the East Coast, we have been closely following this process, called marine spatial planning, to gauge its effect on our work. As the details are unveiled, here at Deepwater Wind we have been pleased to see they promise the offshore wind industry in the U.S. is about to come to life – bringing with it the potential to employ tens of thousands of skilled workers.

In the coming weeks, the administration will be finalizing this national ocean policy and sending it to the President’s desk. It will be up to President Obama to make it official.

The details of the administration’s marine spatial planning framework promote the development of this clean energy source—and the new, green tech jobs it creates—for the nation. It improves the ability for the federal government to preserve and protect the sustainability of our country’s ocean resources so they can continue providing for us into the future.
Similar to the way we manage our land, the administration’s marine spatial planning framework will help us define appropriate places for various ocean uses, including renewable energy, shipping, fishing, diving and sailing. It gives states, coastal regions and stakeholders the chance to be a part of the process, making sure local interests are represented. And it provides a comment period for the public to weigh-in on the process, and be involved in the planning. 

Up until now, industrial uses of the ocean have been conducted through a largely piecemeal approach, lacking a comprehensive or coordinated planning model. This results in ocean sprawl and jeopardizes the health of our seas. This balanced approach to resolve the undue stress on our oceans is not only good news for those of us who rely on it for our livelihoods, but for all stakeholders who use the ocean – including tourists and beach goers.

From Maine to Georgia, offshore wind farms are already in various stages of development. The recently released framework makes clear that marine spatial planning is “not meant to delay or halt existing or pending plans or projects.” Quite the opposite, we anticipate it will support the development of our fledging industry.

Getting this industry off the ground is a key part of our nation’s clean energy future. As has been amply demonstrated in Europe, offshore wind farms are compatible with other economic uses of the ocean. Moreover, they present the most viable option for utility-scale, offshore renewable energy on the East Coast. We have in our hands the opportunity to give birth to a new, clean American industry.

In this tough economy, there’s good reason to be optimistic about not only the environmental, but the economic benefits that offshore wind farms will offer us in the U.S. While there are no offshore wind farms on this side of the Atlantic, for evidence we only need to look to Europe, where the technical and environmental feasibility of offshore wind farms have been tested for nearly 20 years. With dozens of projects either operating or in advanced phases, Europe is far ahead of us in developing this homegrown clean energy, which provides high-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced.

We can do the same thing here at home, and the President’s ocean task force is showing us how. The goal of the administration’s marine spatial planning framework is to protect the robust economic value of our oceans, while also safeguarding its fragile and complex ecosystems that support it. We stand behind them as they move forward with this planning process that will help bring clean energy and a new industry to our shores. 

Lanard is Managing Director, Deepwater Wind, an offshore wind developer with projects under development on the East Coast.