A key part of the United States’ clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.

East Coast states from Maine to North Carolina are working to procure nearly 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035 — a huge leap from the five turbines currently generating 30 megawatts in Rhode Island waters. If a regulatory backlog of projects awaiting approval from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is finally unstuck — as experts hope will happen this year — the buildout of offshore wind will arrive during a crucial decade for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Spinning turbine blades on the watery horizon may be a welcome sight in the fight against climate change, but they still come with potential threats to marine wildlife. Many environmental groups believe the challenges aren’t insurmountable if scientific study can help inform regulatory action and if we can learn — and adapt our practices — as we go.

“We believe that offshore wind can absolutely be developed in an environmentally responsible manner,” says Francine Kershaw, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But that has to be incorporated throughout the whole process — from site assessment through development, construction and operations.”

Threats to Birds

One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten nearly two-thirds of North America’s bird species. That’s why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization’s Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.

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