A generator and its blades are tugged at sea from...

A generator and its blades are tugged at sea from State Pier in New London, Connecticut, Dec. 4, to the South Fork Wind farm. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

For offshore wind power to become an alternative source of energy to fossil fuels, the United States needs a national strategy to encourage this new industry. The strategy must include federal subsidies to utilities and other end users of the energy generated by wind power. The federal government must also prevent irresponsible local government interference in building the necessary infrastructure.

Offshore wind, a reliable and proven source of clean energy, is too important to the efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels to be left to fickle market forces and local nimbyism. Like recent efforts to spur the growth of the domestic production of semiconductors because of their importance to national security, the federal government needs to support the offshore wind industry to fight the existential threat of climate change.

Wind farms were once hailed as a major part of our nation’s clean energy future. Now, their viability is threatened by the high cost of building wind farms from scratch, local opposition to needed infrastructure, and market fluctuations. Developers of wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean have either canceled projects or are reevaluating whether to proceed because of increased costs and market changes in the energy industry. Recently, Dutch wind farm developer Orsted said it was reviewing whether to proceed with two projects off the coast of Long Island, and two other projects off New Jersey were canceled. The federal government needs to help this industry by offering developers more than the limited tax credits currently available. It should level the playing field by using subsidies or tax credits to cover the difference between the cost of energy generated by fossil fuels and that generated by offshore wind.

Fossil fuel producers may argue it would be unfair for the federal government to favor one energy source over another. Using fossil fuels to generate energy, however, has inflicted hidden, yet substantial costs on our nation that wind power does not. Fossil fuel-induced climate change has created an increase in severe weather. Federal disaster relief funds spent to repair damage from weather-related natural disasters are tantamount to a federal subsidy. Add in tax breaks given historically to the oil and gas industry and it's clear the federal government is already favoring fossil fuels.

Also impeding the growth of offshore wind is local opposition to the infrastructure these projects require. The federal government should pass legislation to allow offshore wind infrastructure to be built, just as it did with siting cell towers in the face of local opposition. While losing local control would be controversial, the stakes are too high to allow such opposition to succeed, especially considering that much local opposition is not rooted in fact. For example, many opponents cite the recent rash of whale deaths and blame offshore wind farms when those farms have not been built yet and there is no evidence to suggest they will harm whales.

The federal government has a long history of supporting industries important to our nation’s security and economy. In addition to semiconductors and cellphones, the federal government supported the banking and auto industries when they faced hard times.

Developing alternative energy supplies is an investment in our nation’s future. The very survival of our planet is at stake. Climate change is real and affects our whole nation. A federal strategy to use our nation’s natural resources to develop alternative sources of energy such as offshore wind will have tremendous benefit to the whole nation in the future.

This guest essay reflects the views of E. Christopher Murray, an environmental attorney and partner at Rivkin Radler.

This guest essay reflects the views of E. Christopher Murray, an environmental attorney and partner at Rivkin Radler.

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