On November 6, 2023, an op-ed was published in a local Delaware paper that described offshore wind as an “environmental wrecking ball.” Yet the author, David Stevenson, is the director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the Caesar Rodney Institute, a Delaware-based think tank that as recently as 2019 received thousands of dollars from both American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Energy Alliance—two groups with a stake in fossil fuels. This fact may explain why the op-ed is riddled with misinformation.
The fossil fuel industry has long funded misinformation about renewable energy—for example, California is currently suing five major oil companies for decades of deception about the risks of fossil fuel use. Offshore wind appears to be the industry’s latest target. Beginning in at least 2019, there has been a growing nationwide campaign against offshore wind using misinformation and obstruction. As a result, offshore wind misinformation has become increasingly common in the Northeast, where the wind energy economy is ramping up and wind turbines are actively being installed off the coast. Local communities may have questions or concerns about offshore wind infrastructure being built nearby. Unfortunately, these concerns—whether valid or not—are being stoked by fossil fuel-serving networks in an effort to keep people reliant on fossil fuels.
Offshore wind is not actually bad for people or the planet; it’s simply bad for the fossil fuel industry’s bottom line.
This column sheds light on the extensive fossil fuel-backed network behind offshore wind misinformation, which is designed to protect the industry’s record-breaking oil and gas profits and delay the renewable energy transition.
The United States is scaling up its offshore wind industry despite misinformation
Renewable energy use has been increasing in recent decades, making up 21 percent of domestic electricity generation in 2020. Last year, the United States used more renewable energy than ever, with wind being the largest single source. Onshore and offshore wind energy have substantial environmental and economic benefits: They don’t emit greenhouse gases or pollution, they don’t deplete scarce water supplies, and they create jobs. Offshore wind, in particular, generates more consistent energy because of the steadier winds off our coasts. Yet offshore wind is just getting started domestically, with only 42 megawatts (MW) fully operational in the United States as of 2022. Other parts of the world are far more established in offshore wind; Europe, for example, had 30.3 gigawatts (GW), or 30,300 MW, of installed offshore wind power across 126 offshore wind farms as of March 2023.
Like other industrial-scale ocean uses, offshore wind involves large ocean infrastructure that will affect communities, and such innovation naturally comes with certain questions and concerns. Thankfully, many of the changes will ultimately benefit communities through reduced pollution and job creation, and many of the questions can be answered. Before diving into the forces behind offshore wind misinformation, it’s important to dispel some common myths:
- Offshore wind does not hurt tourism or home prices. The United States’ first fully operational wind farm, Block Island Wind Farm, has even led to positive effects on tourism, and in Europe, wind farms have not affected coastal home prices.
- There are much worse threats to fishing than offshore wind. Overfishing is the greatest threat to the fishing industry, and there are multiple places globally where the fishing industry and offshore wind coexist. Moreover, climate change is a major threat to fishing, and offshore wind could help mitigate some of the challenges that it poses for the industry by reducing emissions.
- Offshore wind turbines are not wasteful. Offshore wind turbines are durable and built to last 20 to 25 years, on average. More than 80 percent of turbine components are already recyclable or reusable, and researchers and organizations are working on recycling or reusing wind turbine blades.
- There is no evidence to suggest that offshore wind site surveys have killed or could kill whales. There are multiple safeguards employed to ensure the safety of marine mammals, and other protected species, during both offshore wind leasing and development. Ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement, on the other hand, are two dangers that do pose significant threats to whales. Furthermore, climate change is a major threat to the food chains whales rely on, and offshore wind is part of the solution.
One way that the fossil fuel industry disguises its involvement in spreading misinformation is through sham grassroots organizations, commonly known as “astroturf” groups. These groups give the appearance of genuine or widespread support for a certain viewpoint but actually serve the purposes of a powerful person or interest. Grassroots organizations, on the other hand, develop organically through a shared motivation to take action on a certain issue, such as clean water or city zoning. There are many examples of corporations starting astroturf movements for their own benefit; for instance, a cigarette company funded the vaguely named Alliance of Australian Retailers in 2010 to campaign against public health-conscious cigarette packaging.
Notably, some local groups that aren’t directly connected to the fossil fuel industry still use messaging that is similar to misinformation spread by larger fossil fuel-funded groups. This can be considered an “information subsidy,” by which the work of larger groups may influence the efforts of smaller groups that have similar missions.
The connections between these groups can also be more explicit. For example, the anti-offshore wind organization American Coalition for Ocean Protection is a project of the Caesar Rodney Institute, which itself has received funding from both American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Energy Alliance—two fossil industry groups—as well as the apparent astroturf group Protect Our Coast NJ. Two CRI executives, including David Stevenson, manage the American Coalition for Ocean Protection’s Ocean Environment Legal Defense Fund, which holds funds to fight offshore wind projects.
In order to illustrate the coordinated effort behind offshore wind misinformation, the diagram below maps out significant and verifiable connections between fossil fuel funders, think tanks, and astroturf groups.
The fossil fuel industry is financing offshore wind misinformation, with money flowing through interest groups, think tanks, and astroturf groups to achieve its ultimate goal of slowing, if not stopping, the expansion of offshore wind in the United States. Offshore wind is not actually bad for people or the planet; it’s simply bad for the industry’s bottom line. Renewable energy consumption has increased in the United States in recent years, and offshore wind projects are under construction in spite of the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to maintain its exorbitant profits through misinformation. Fortunately, fossil fuel misinformation is far from insurmountable, and the United States can and should keep moving toward renewable energy to take advantage of its benefits for people, the economy, and the environment.
The authors would like to thank Mona Alsaidi, Keenan Alexander, Meghan K. Miller, Steve Bonitatibus, Nicole Gentile, Mike Williams, Chris Martinez, and Michael Freeman for their contributions to this column.