Biden administration gives offshore wind farms a big boost

Offshore wind farms could arrive on almost any coast of the American continent. Home Secretary Deb Haaland today announced plans to auction developer leases for up to seven new areas by 2025. This includes the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine, from the central Atlantic, from New York Bight (between Long Island and New Jersey), and off the coasts of Oregon, California and the Carolinas.

This is a big expansion of offshore wind in the United States, which lags far behind Europe when it comes to deployment. The first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States just received federal approval in May. Two existing smaller operations in US waters have a combined capacity of just 42 megawatts. The Biden administration has set a target of increasing the capacity to 30,000 MW by 2030. Europe, which is home to the majority of the world’s offshore wind, had almost as much installed by 2020.

The first offshore wind projects in the United States are located all along the east coast. Expansion to other shores will bring new technical challenges. On the Pacific coast, the waters become much deeper, much closer to shore compared to the Atlantic coast of the United States. This makes it more difficult to secure the turbines to the seabed. The White House announced in May that it would open two areas off the California coast to commercial-scale wind farms and indicated that it may turn to new technology for floating wind farms.

Turbines in the Gulf of Mexico will face hurricanes and soft soils, according to recent studies from the National Renewable Energy Lab. Still, shallow waters and smaller waves make the gulf ripe for wind development. The new offshore wind industry could also benefit from the existing infrastructure and know-how of the region’s history in offshore oil and gas drilling. The very first wind farm off Rhode Island was built with the help of ships from Louisiana.

“We are working to facilitate a pipeline of projects that will build confidence for the offshore wind industry,” Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said in a statement today. It could still take years for offshore turbines to be operational. The proposed wind farms have historically faced authorization delays, local opposition and a shortage of specialized installation vessels.

But with droughts, wildfires, storms and coastal flooding increasingly intense in the United States due to climate change, there is no time to waste in the transition to clean energy. The Biden administration’s offshore wind push is part of a larger goal to run the country’s electricity grid entirely on clean energy by 2035 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.