For the development of offshore wind power, the road to market competitiveness and wholesale production of electrical power has been paved with controversy. But the resource potential remains vast.

One proponent, Willett Kempton, professor of earth sciences at the University of Delaware, believes strongly in tapping this tremendous source of renewable power. In written testimony presented recently to the U.S. Senate, Kempton describes a fledgling U.S. offshore wind-power industry with the potential to change the landscape of U.S. power production.

In his testimony on Senate Bill 1733, the so-called “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” Kempton asserted that offshore wind is the country’s largest ocean-energy resource, “even in comparison to offshore oil and gas resources.” He estimates that U.S. offshore wind power could produce an average of 450 gigawatts (GW) of electricity over the course of a year, compared to average national electricity sales of only 419 GW. With this excess supply, there is enough offshore wind power to produce electricity for the entire country with room for growth.

In particular, Kempton focuses on the tremendous, untapped potential of offshore wind in the mid-Atlantic states. Referencing a study he conducted in 2007 with colleagues from Stanford University and the University of Delaware, he asserted that a fully developed wind-power resource off the coast of the nine states from Massachusetts through North Carolina could produce an average of 330 GW of electricity per year. This, he claims, would meet and far exceed the region’s total annual average power needs of 185 GW, including traditional electrical power as well as all the energy needed to move vehicles and heat buildings.

Despite this mega-potential, offshore wind-power development still faces many hurdles. Locally, opponents object to the placing of wind turbines in fragile and scenic coastal waters. At the national level, federal policies negatively impact the industry, as they do other forms of renewable power.

To address some of these issues, Kempton suggests a number of steps, including a carbon cap and trade policy, lengthening of the timeframe for the renewable energy tax credit to a longer and more stable 10 years, and support for more research and development, all of which he said will encourage new technology.