This study characterized the annual mean US East Coast (USEC) offshore wind energy (OWE) resource on the basis of 5 years of high-resolution mesoscale model (Weather Research and Forecasting–Advanced Research Weather Research and Forecasting) results at 90 m height. Model output was evaluated against 23 buoys and nine offshore towers. Peak-time electrical demand was analyzed to determine if OWE resources were coincident with the increased grid load. The most suitable locations for large-scale development of OWE were prescribed, on the basis of the wind resource, bathymetry, hurricane risk and peak-time generation potential. The offshore region from Virginia to Maine was found to have the most exceptional overall resource with annual turbine capacity factors (CF) between 40% and 50%, shallow water and low hurricane risk. The best summer resource during peak time, in water of ≤ 50 m depth, is found between Long Island, New York and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, due in part to regional upwelling, which often strengthens the sea breeze. In the South US region, the waters off North Carolina have adequate wind resource and shallow bathymetry but high hurricane risk. Overall, the resource from Florida to Maine out to 200 m depth, with the use of turbine CF cutoffs of 45% and 40%, is 965–1372 TWh (110–157 GW average). About one-third of US or all of Florida to Maine electric demand can technically be provided with the use of USEC OWE. With the exception of summer, all peak-time demand for Virginia to Maine can be satisfied with OWE in the waters off those states. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.