This article looks at the potential risks and uncertainties associated with siting, constructing, and operating offshore wind facilities within a gigawatt-scale deployment strategy in North America. The U.S. electricity generation system, about 70 % fossil fuels and 20 % nuclear, is undergoing a sea change (EIA 2010). Two difficulties stand out in siting any utility-scale power plant and its delivery infrastructure anywhere; the potential catastrophic risks associated with oil and gas drilling and nuclear technologies, and the need to quickly expand low carbon, cost-effective energy supplies to meet expected demand under climate change scenarios in the next decade. Offshore wind has the potential to play a pivotal role in the low carbon energy supplies needed on the east coast and Great Lakes of the U.S. (DOE 2008, Musial and Ram 2010). The Department of Energy (DOE) estimated that the U.S. electricity sector could avoid 825 million tons of CO2 by integrating 20% wind energy (including 54 GW of offshore wind) into the U.S. electricity system by 2030 (DOE 2008a). The benefits of wind energy in mitigating climate change and other energy issues need to be considered together with the negative impacts in estimating and comparing risks involved in different energy sources (NRC 2009a). The European Community has shown the pathway with gigawatt-scale deployments operating, under construction, and planned in the Baltic, North and Irish Seas (Global Offshore Wind Farms Database 2011).
This article argues that a new paradigm with a more systematic approach, beyond the engineering, policy, and financial market barriers, is essential to better inform gigawatt-scale wind decision makers and stakeholders. The diverse community of players and decision makers in the offshore wind industry requires a robust, integrated knowledge base. The knowledge base can help avoid surprises that impede and delay siting projects while laying the base for effective and fair approaches for communities along our coasts and Lakes. A new paradigm is proposed, an integrated risk analysis, as an effective approach to complex siting and community engagement issues.