Energy & Environment

Biden bolsters push for offshore wind

Wind turbines near water
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The Biden administration is leaning into offshore wind as part of its push to transition the U.S. to clean energy, even as the federal government is already on its way to meeting a new target for the energy source.

The administration has taken several steps in recent weeks to advance its goal of being able to generate 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by the year 2030. That’s enough energy to power more than 10 million homes.

However, there were already 28.5 gigawatts in the “offshore wind pipeline” as of 2019, before President Biden entered office. The Energy Department, which provided updated figures after this article was published, said there are currently more than 35 gigawatts in the pipeline, more than enough to meet Biden’s target.

This gives the department the better part of a decade to see those projects come to fruition. Advocates and experts say Biden’s goal is still significant given the work needed to get projects across the finish line.

“It’s both ambitious, but I think it’s also very doable,” said Erin Baker, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “We may not be halfway there in five years, but I think then it’ll really start to speed up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually end up surpassing it by 2030.”

The U.S. currently has just two operational offshore wind farms: the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island and the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project in Virginia Beach. The projects have just seven turbines combined.

The Biden administration has made a series of announcements in recent weeks aimed at boosting offshore wind.

In April, the federal government revoked a Trump-era legal opinion that would have given more weight to fishing concerns about offshore wind.

Last month, the administration approved the first commercial-scale project, Vineyard Wind, which will have up to 84 turbines.

And last week, the federal government announced a deal with California to develop wind energy off the state’s northern and central coasts, and has scoped out two sites that it hopes will generate a combined 4.6 gigawatts.

The administration has also said it hopes to review plans for at least 16 projects by 2025. 

Earlier in its tenure, the Trump administration took some steps itself to promote offshore wind energy, such as holding lease sales off the coasts of North Carolina and Massachusetts and advancing a project near Rhode Island

It also looked toward a potential lease sale off the coast of California, though Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) recently remarked that the state got “nowhere” with the prior administration.

The Trump administration also notably put delays in the permitting process for the Vineyard Wind project. 

Laura Morton, of the American Clean Power Association, said it’s “hard to project” whether the country would be on the same track for approving offshore wind projects if former President Trump were still in office.

“It’s always great to have a target in line that you can run towards because I think that does incentivize the agencies to really look at that,” said Morton, who leads the renewable industry group’s offshore wind work. 

When it announced the California sites, the Biden administration said it hoped to sell leases there by the middle of next year.

As of 2019, there were a few dozen projects or other areas where wind could potentially be developed that had been identified by the federal government, including the two farms that are now operational. 

The department said at the time that 4.6 gigawatts worth of offshore wind energy were in the planning phase, 17.4 gigawatts had been leased, and 6.4 gigawatts were in the process of getting permits. 

Some of these projects are also expected to come online in the next few years, with seven projects representing about 2 gigawatts slated to come online in 2023, three projects representing about 2.8 gigawatts slated to come online in 2024 and two projects representing 1.6 gigawatts slated to come online in 2025, as of the 2019 document.

In its response to The Hill’s questions, the department said Thursday that 16 projects were currently in the permitting phase, 16 projects had leases and there were an additional seven wind energy areas that had not yet been leased.

It said that some of this will probably not be fully developed and operational by 2030. 

Asked about whether the 2030 goal was ambitious considering what’s already on the way, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management directed The Hill to the White House’s fact sheet on the goal.

The fact sheet estimates that meeting the target “will trigger more than $12 billion per year in capital investment in projects on both U.S. coasts, create tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs, with more than 44,000 workers employed in offshore wind by 2030 and nearly 33,000 additional jobs in communities supported by offshore wind activity.”

Advocates and experts argue the Biden administration’s effort is ambitious, even if some offshore wind is already underway.

Baker, the University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who directs the university’s Wind Energy Fellows, said that the federal government will have to identify more locations in addition to getting the turbines through the regulatory process and built. 

“You would want to scope out at least somewhat more … because there is a chance that not every single one may go through,” she said, adding, “We wouldn’t want to limit ourselves to 30 [gigawatts] … We should do as much as we can get in the water.”

Jennifer McCann, director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center, said she didn’t think the Biden administration should aim for more than 30 gigawatts by 2030.

She argued that it’s important to take “baby steps” when starting to take actions that will impact oceans and to try to build not just faster, but better.

“We should be exploring ways of encouraging multi-use,” McCann said, citing as an example investments in fishing gear or vessels that could make it easier to fish within wind farms. 

“We need to invest in best management practices, whether they be revisions in our regulatory system, in our management system, in technologies which again could lead to commercialization and a more diverse and enhanced blue economy,” she added.

Meanwhile, industry groups say they’ve seen enthusiasm from their members about the administration’s push. 

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said offshore wind developers and other companies that work in the supply chain are excited, adding such efforts need a positive signal from the government.

“These companies that provide supplies, they provide vessels, they provide services, they also are in a situation where they need to make investments so that they can provide those services and supplies, and they’re not going to do that until they see the government moving forward in a way to allow all these projects [to] come through the pipeline,” said Milito, whose group represents offshore wind, oil and gas. 

Morton, with American Clean Power, added that overall it’s an “incredibly exciting time for the industry.”

“Having the Biden-Harris administration announce the 30 gigawatts by 2030 was thrilling and I think very important to move the industry forward, and it sets the stage for a brand-new, home-grown energy industry,” she said.

Updated: June 3 at 11:55 a.m.

Tags Donald Trump Gavin Newsom Joe Biden offshore wind energy wind energy

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