The offshore wind final net technical resource of 2,059 GW in the United States is unrealized in part due to a cumbersome permitting process. In this dissertation, I examine the role of biological data in the permitting process, and explore frameworks for overcoming identified deficiencies. Criteria analyses and semi-structured interviews were conducted to understand how biological data impede impact assessments of offshore wind projects, which are required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). In addition, spatiotemporal scales of biological data in NEPA assessments were evaluated against federal requirements. Case studies and semi-structured interviews were then conducted to evaluate how the marine spatial planning (MSP) process and its outcomes could address identified data impediments, how MSP could otherwise advance the offshore wind permitting process, what are the limiting factors of MSP, how limiting factors could be overcome, and how species distribution models could provide appropriate data to improve documentation.
The research conducted for my dissertation showed that scales of biological data are inadequate in impact assessments and insufficient biological data are impediments in the offshore wind permitting process. Data from species distribution models contribute marginal value to impact assessments, and should not be exclusively relied upon. MSP can improve data access and analyses in NEPA documentation, in addition to facilitating communications, minimizing conflict, and providing a common operating picture. However, the full value of MSP is limited due to lack of political support and methodological changes in implementation. Therefore, other initiatives to facilitate data management should be pursued, such as industry sponsored research and relaxing the proprietary nature of baseline biological data. The results of this project highlight the significance that biological data has in impeding offshore wind projects and suggest solutions to overcome this in order to responsibly advance the offshore wind sector in the United States.