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Federal agencies, state add to US offshore wind momentum

14 June 2021 Keiron Greenhalgh

The US Department of the Interior (Interior) announced a competitive offshore wind lease sale in waters off New York and New Jersey 11 June, extending a sequence of landmark steps in recent weeks for the nascent sector that now encompasses opportunities on three coastlines for the first time.

Three days earlier, on 8 June, Interior said it intended to look into opportunities on the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf, the first federal step for developments along the US southern coast. A day later, the state of North Carolina unveiled a 2030 offshore wind capacity goal of 2.8 GW.

The acceleration of the prospects began at the end of May when the federal government designated two areas off the coast of California for development after overcoming long-standing Department of Defense objections. The designation sets the areas on the path to a lease auction by mid-2022.

But the Biden-Harris administration's first offshore wind lease sale will be in Atlantic Coast waters in an area known as the New York Bight as it seeks to fulfill a promise to reach 30 GW of capacity by 2030. The New York Bight is an area of shallow waters between Long Island and the New Jersey coast.

The lease areas have the potential to unlock over 7 GW of offshore wind capacity, powering more than 2.6 million homes and supporting thousands of new jobs, Interior said in a statement announcing the sale.

The proposed sale includes eight lease areas. With the release of the proposed sale notice 11 June, a 60-day public comment period began. Potential new bidders must submit required qualification materials by 13 August.

Avangrid Renewables, East Wind, EDF Renewables Development, Equinor Wind, Horizon Wind Power, North River Wind, RWE Offshore Wind Holdings, PNE USA, US Mainstream Renewable Power, US Wind, and Invenergy Wind Offshore are already qualified to bid into the sale, Interior said.

New York aims for 9 GW

The announcement won backing from state level leaders in New York. "The development of green energy resources is one of the most critical components in winning the global fight against climate change and the Biden administration should be commended for moving swiftly to advance offshore wind power in the New York Bight," said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement via Twitter. Cuomo has set a 2035 offshore wind goal of 9 GW.

Clean energy advocates also applauded the unveiling of the lease sale. "We are thrilled to see the White House continue to step up with concrete measures to help unleash America's nascent offshore wind industry," American Council on Renewable Energy CEO Gregory Wetstone said 11 June.

And National Ocean Industries Association President Erik Milito said that as coastal states with the fourth and 11th-largest state populations, respectively, New York and New Jersey are integral to the development of offshore wind in the US.

Offshore wind development in the New York Bight could attract almost $46 billion in capital investments and support up to 32,000 jobs, added American Clean Power Association Senior Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs for Offshore Wind Laura Morton.

But fishing interests, long-time critics of the impact of US East Coast wind farms, were less pleased. "We maintain that rushing to lease additional areas beyond the thousands of square miles already slated for development of this new ocean use is misguided and dangerous—particularly in the Bight which is perhaps the most spatially conflicted area in the country," Annie Hawkins, executive director at the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a fishing industry interest group, said an 11 June statement.

So far, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) unit has held eight competitive lease sales and issued 17 active commercial offshore wind leases on the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

IHS Markit data shows the US has at least 21.9 GW of offshore wind projects in the pipeline awaiting various approvals, but only two wind farms are currently operational, and one is a pilot project, meaning just 42 MW of capacity is online at the moment.

North Carolina target

Also on the Atlantic Coast, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper on 9 June issued Executive Order No.218, establishing offshore wind goals of 2.8 GW by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040. Cooper said the capacity would help achieve the state's Clean Energy Plan goal of a 70% reduction in power sector GHG emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

In October 2020, Cooper teamed up with his Maryland and Virginia counterparts to create the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources, which will looks to jointly promote, develop, and expand offshore wind generation and its supply chain in the neighboring states.

Maryland has a 1.2 GW of offshore wind by 2030 goal.

Virginia is home to one of the two operational US offshore windfarms—the 12-MW, two-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project. The pilot project is a precursor to what is the biggest US offshore wind farm announced yet, Dominion Energy's 2.64-GW wind farm of the same name.

Ralph Northam, Virginia's governor, in 2020 set the state a 5.2-GW offshore wind goal by 2034, with 2.6 GW of that online by 2030, which the Dominion wind farm, due online in 2026, would meet in its entirety four years early if it obtains federal permits and begins construction as planned.

Gulf Coast debut

US Gulf Coast (USGC) offshore wind developments are at an even earlier stage than those on the Atlantic Coast, where the only two operational wind farms are located.

BOEM published a Request for Interest (RFI) in the Federal Register 11 June, focused on the Western and Central Planning Areas of the Gulf of Mexico—which are off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Although the primary focus of the RFI is on wind energy development, BOEM is also seeking information on other renewable energy technologies.

Following the publication of the RFI, a 45-day public comment period began. BOEM is launching a Gulf of Mexico Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force to help coordinate planning and solicit feedback. The first task force meeting will be on 15 June.

"The Gulf of Mexico has decades of offshore energy development expertise. Today's announcement represents the first step in harnessing that expertise and applying it to the renewable energy sector," Mike Celata, regional director of BOEM's Gulf of Mexico office in New Orleans, said in a statement released alongside the announcement.

Building Gulf of Mexico offshore wind capacity is "definitely necessary" if the US is to hit the 30 GW by 2030 target, IHS Markit Senior Research Analyst, Global Wind Energy, Samantha Bobo said.

However, wind resources in the Gulf of Mexico are not as strong as on the Atlantic Coast and only Texas has a renewable energy capacity target in the region, said Bobo. In addition, that target has been met already through onshore wind, raising questions on whether offshore wind will be an attractive enough USGC investment without state incentives, she said.

Posted 14 June 2021 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Senior Editor


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