Biden administration gives offshore wind farms a big boost

The GE-Alstom Block Island Wind Farm stands in the water off Block Island, Rhode Island, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. | Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesOffshore wind farms could be coming to nearly every coastline along the continental...

Biden administration gives offshore wind farms a big boost

Offshore wind farms could be coming to nearly every coastline along the continental US. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland today announced plans to auction off leases to developers for up to seven new areas by 2025. That includes waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine, Central Atlantic, New York Bight (between Long Island and New Jersey), and off the coasts of Oregon, California, and the Carolinas.

It’s a big scaling up of offshore wind in the US, which lags far behind Europe when it comes to deployment. The US’ first commercial-scale offshore wind farm just got federal approval in May. Two existing, smaller operations in US waters have a combined capacity of just 42 megawatts. The Biden administration set a goal of pushing capacity up to 30,000 MW by 2030. Europe, home to a majority of the world’s offshore wind, already had nearly that much installed in 2020.

The US’ first offshore wind projects are all along the East Coast. Expanding to other shores will come with new technical challenges. On the Pacific coast, waters get much deeper, much closer to shore compared to the US’ Atlantic coastline. That makes it more difficult to affix turbines to the seafloor. The White House announced in May that it would open up two areas off the California coast to commercial-scale wind farms and indicated that it might turn to new technology for floating wind farms.

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

“We are working to facilitate a pipeline of projects that will establish confidence for the offshore wind industry,” said Amanda Lefton, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, in a statement today. It could still take years to get offshore turbines up and running. Proposed wind farms have historically struggled with permitting delays, local opposition, and a shortage of specialized installation ships.

But with droughts, wildfires, storms, and coastal flooding growing more intense in the US as a result of climate change, there’s no time to lose in the transition to clean energy. The Biden administration’s offshore wind push is part of a larger goal to get the country’s electricity grid running entirely on clean energy by 2035 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.