The prospect of offshore wind farms seems like it’s been floating around for a long time now. We’ve heard about the controversy over Massachusetts’ Cape Wind Project and we’ve seen pictures of the offshore wind installations in European countries such as Denmark and the UK. Yet, to date, no offshore wind farms exist in the United States. Essentially, offshore wind has long been one of the “next big things” on the horizon, but has yet to make the jump to reality.

However, 2010 has quietly been a good year for the offshore industry, even though no projects have actually been built.  One good sign came from New Jersey, where on August 19th Governor Chris Christie signed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act (OWEDA). OWEDA will provide tax incentives and financial support to developers building wind projects off New Jersey’s coast. It will also establish a renewable energy certificate program specific to offshore wind, part of which requires the state to set a target indicating the percentage of its electricity that should come from offshore wind projects. This is some of the first legislation in the country specifically geared toward supporting offshore wind, and thus it may illustrate one possible way for states with limited on-land wind resources (a category that includes pretty much the entire eastern seaboard) to capitalize on their renewable potential. Again, no projects have reached the construction phase, but two of New Jersey’s planned offshore projects—the Bluewater Wind Project and the Fisherman’s Energy project—have built meteorological towers and floated them into the Atlantic on buoys to begin collecting wind data.

Another promising development occurred back in April, when the aforementioned, much-maligned Cape Wind project finally received the go-ahead to begin construction, pending lawsuits. Once built, the project will provide the same amount of electricity as a medium-sized coal plant and reduce carbon emissions equal to removing 175,000 cars from the road. It’s nice to see a project which has always enjoyed tremendous popular support (81% of Massachusetts citizens and 61% of Cape Cod citizens endorsed it as of 2005), finally get cleared.

At National Wind, we’re not about to develop any offshore projects anytime soon (we’ve got plenty of lakes here in Minnesota, but none of them are quite big enough). National Wind’s first priority is to develop the United States’ excellent land-based wind resources, which include some of the best wind regimes in the world. However, we still think offshore wind projects have the potential to be great sources of electricity. They have all the environmental and economic benefits of land-based projects, and with the added benefit of increased wind speeds over water when compared to land. With this in mind, it’s time we take advantage of the rich energy resources our coasts have to offer.