Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden announced a major effort to kick-start the offshore wind industry in the US, with the stated goal of going from nearly zero to 30 GW capacity before the decade ends. To that end, the Biden administration has given final approval to Vineyard Wind near Massachusetts and is involved with three major wind projects that will take place off New Jersey.
But even with the sheer size of those projects, the US would be left with about 4 GW of offshore wind – nowhere near the 30 GW target. That’s why on Wednesday, Home Secretary Deb Haaland laid an ambitious roadmap The lease will see all of the 48 states’ coastal areas assessed for lease, with lease deals completed before the end of Biden’s term in 2024.
a multi-year process
At the federal level, the leasing process involves much more than just finding a site that has strong, frequent winds. Federal regulators have to consider factors other than environmental impacts, conflicts with other users, damage to historic sites, and the needs of any Native American groups in the area. Only after these hurdles are removed can the sale of the lease begin.
So far, the Interior Department has completed that process for only a few areas: off Massachusetts and New Jersey as described earlier, as well as two sites off Virginia, one of which has a projected 2.6 GW. But even combined, these projects represent a relatively small portion of the American coastline.
There are two other areas where the leasing process has started. One is called the New York Bight, which includes sites north of New York Harbor along Long Island that have an estimated capacity of over 7 GW. NS Interior Department announced that it intends to begin lease sales back in June. The second area is called Carolina Long Bay and includes the coastal areas of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, north toward Wilmington, North Carolina. There lease sales have already started, and the Department of the Interior is considering Opening other sites adjacent to them.
But the department remains quite interested in expanding offshore wind. To this end, it is currently in the process of reviewing sites in northern and central California and expects to complete the study later this year or early next year. Also under review is the Gulf of Mexico, with a lease on track at the end of next year. Also in the Mid-Atlantic (primarily Virginia and Maryland) and Oregon are other regions with lease sales expected in 2023. Finally, the Gulf of Maine will complete the study period in 2023, with lease sales expected in 2024.
Nowhere near the end of the lease signing process. Offshore wind developers must approve their plans for the lease site before construction can begin. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management indicates that it is currently reviewing nine construction and operation plans for existing lease sites, and it expects to complete those reviews, as well as another. Six that are yet to be presented until 2025. This would mean around 19 GW of capacity approved for construction.
Once construction-support facilities are established – something that is still a work in progress in the US – even large offshore wind farms can often be completed in two to four years. So to reach the Biden administration’s target of 30 GW by 2030, a further 11 GW of capacity would need to be approved by 2026.
The Biden administration is cutting things pretty closely. On its side, it is likely that experience with the leasing and permitting process for the first few wind farms will help cut some of the time needed for future projects. And it’s possible that efforts to block the first few offshore wind farms in court, should they continue to fail, will set precedents that limit the legal hurdles these projects face.
The biggest risk appears to be the election of an administration that displays the retaliation for wind power shown by former President Trump.