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Climate

Americans on the Coast Actually Love Offshore Wind, a New Poll Shows

The whales will be fine.

Wind turbines.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Last year, I got two kinds of stories about offshore wind in my inbox. One was about the industry’s struggle with inflation and higher interest rates. The other was about rampant claims that the industry was killing whales — an idea for which there is no evidence, and which was found to be spread by groups with ties to the fossil fuel industry.

But while both narratives have set the industry back to some extent, neither appears to have damaged public support for building wind farms in the ocean. Americans living on the coasts largely support offshore wind and want to see the industry continue to grow, according to a new poll.

The poll was conducted in November 2023 by Climate Nexus, a climate change strategic communications group, and Turn Forward, an offshore wind advocacy nonprofit that says it does not receive funding from wind farm developers.

A representative sample of 2,038 adults living in coastal counties along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and Gulf of Mexico were asked about their views of offshore wind. More than two-thirds responded that they support offshore wind farm construction, and 63% responded favorably when asked specifically whether they supported offshore wind farms near where they lived. Nearly 60% endorsed the U.S. government selling more leases to expand the industry’s development.

Public sentiment, for the most part, was positive across party lines. The majority of Republican respondents also said they supported offshore wind, both in general (57%), and near where they live (52%).

A more polarizing question was whether respondents preferred offshore wind development to expanding offshore oil and gas, with 71% of Democrats opting for wind but only 33% of Republicans. (26% of Republicans said they had no preference.)

One of the more intriguing parts of the poll tried to suss out what people had heard and read about offshore wind, and where they were getting information about the emerging industry. Local opposition groups like Protect Our Coast New Jersey have developed large followings on Facebook, where members share their fears that wind turbines will harm marine mammals, tourism, and property values — and also argue against the basic facts of climate change. Several grassroots groups, including Protect Our Coast New Jersey, have been found to have financial relationships with fossil fuel-funded think tanks like the Caesar Rodney Institute.

Conservative outlets like Fox News have also fueled the narrative that offshore wind development is killing whales. Media Matters, a media watchdog, found that Fox has “aired at least 54 segments suggesting that offshore wind development is causing whale deaths.” A report published last year by researchers at Brown University that mapped out the networks of anti-offshore wind groups in the U.S. suggested that social networks and conservative news outlets like Fox function as “a feedback loop of opposition and misinformation.”

According to the new poll, 53% of coastal Americans have received information about offshore wind on TV news, and 48% have seen posts about it on social media. Those were the two top sources of information, followed by newspapers, family and friends, and TV ads. But even so, most respondents — 56% — said that everything they have seen, read, or heard about offshore wind has been more positive than negative.

But while the poll may be a good temperature check on public sentiment, it doesn’t necessarily change some of the headwinds that offshore wind development faces. An earlier report from Columbia University researchers found that local opposition to renewable energy projects, including offshore wind projects, is growing. The report specifically documents instances where community groups have passed laws to block projects or filed lawsuits against developers or local officials.

There are currently four lawsuits pending in federal court against Vineyard Wind, a project that is already under construction, from a group called Nantucket Residents Against Turbines. In New Jersey, at least two communities passed resolutions last year calling on state and federal officials to impose a moratorium on offshore wind projects, citing whale deaths. And last October, a group called Protect Our Coast LINY celebrated a victory when New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill that would have greenlit placing an offshore wind transmission cable under the sand in Long Beach, which the group had been fighting.

Even if the majority of coastal citizens support an American offshore wind industry, a vocal minority can still wield a lot of power to hold it back — especially when they have the backing of fossil fuel money.

Blue

Emily Pontecorvo

Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal. Read More

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