Backwards boat-view of a line of ocean-bound wind turbines.
Block Island Wind Farm is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, located off the coast of Rhode Island. As new floating offshore wind projects take shape, more and more stakeholders are benefiting from SEER resources.
Shaun Dakin

Humans know more about space than about the Earth’s own oceans. There’s a lot of nuance behind this statement, but it’s clear that there’s mystery and uncertainty about oceans, despite immense gains in knowledge over the years.

This uncertainty has been evident for several years in how environmental advocacy groups and other stakeholders perceive the environmental risks associated with offshore wind energy development—but two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories joined forces to shed light on these risks and provide recommendations for mitigating them.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory launched the U.S. Offshore Wind Synthesis of Environmental Effects Research (SEER) project in 2018 to summarize and share knowledge with offshore wind energy stakeholders.

O Say Can You SEER

Supported by DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, the multiyear project:

  • Synthesized researchers’ current understanding of environmental effects of offshore wind,
  • Identified existing information gaps, and
  • Described future environmental research efforts needed to responsibly develop offshore wind energy projects in U.S. waters.

In Fall 2022, SEER published its synthesis briefs and research recommendations for the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The information has become an important resource and educational tool for a range of offshore wind energy stakeholders.

The team reports that, as of August 2023, individual chapters of the SEER booklet have been viewed more than 17,000 times since they were released, and the research recommendations have been viewed more than 3,000 times.

From Sea to Shining Sea

The team is now receiving exciting feedback from stakeholders on both coasts, who are benefitting from the information and incorporating it into their own efforts.

“We appreciate the collaborative nature of the SEER effort to coordinate and share information on offshore-wind-related environmental research,” said Doug Boren, the Pacific regional director at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “Recognizing that opportunities for future floating offshore wind development in U.S. Pacific waters will require unprecedented collaboration between states, tribes, coastal communities, ocean users, and the general public, SEER provides us with another resource to help make technical information available through myriad innovative approaches.”

Oregon Coast Energy Alliance Network is preparing a series of brief fliers to help address environmental concerns that members of the public have raised in local meetings, and is including active links to reliable, science-based reports, including SEER research briefs.

“The significant benefit of actively linking to the SEER briefs is that, for individuals who want to take a ‘deeper dive’ into the science, they can get a robust list of relevant peer-reviewed articles,” said the network’s environmental chair, Bill Gorham.

The SEER team has also been working with the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative for Offshore Wind, which supports research and monitoring of wildlife and offshore wind. The regional group has actively incorporated SEER findings in developing its science plan, which inventories data related to offshore wind energy development off the Atlantic Coast and lists many recommendations for how to address data gaps. 

On the Horizon

As part of the SEER project, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are now leading the development of research briefs that summarize the state of knowledge about the potential environmental effects from offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Mexico. The SEER team recently met with Gulf of Mexico stakeholders to gather input on topics to cover as part of the research synthesis and began drafting the materials. 

The SEER team is also continuing to host a series of webinars about emerging research and technology related to the environmental effects of offshore wind. Topics include regional offshore surveys, advancements in autonomous monitoring technology, emerging technologies for bird and bat monitoring, and interactions with near-shore ecosystems. As of August 2023, the webinars have been attended by 1,300 participants, and their recordings are approaching 2,000 viewers.

Learn more about SEER and watch for updates on future project activities.