US offshore wind is under sail, but challenges remain


Wind turbines generate electricity on a farm near Throckmorton, Texas, the United States, August 24, 2018. REUTERS / Nick Oxford

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September 30, 2021 – The electrical system in the United States is under pressure from environmental and political challenges, but a historically untapped resource is poised to make significant advances in the years to come. In the past decade, wind power generation has increased across the continent of the United States US Energy Information Agency, the total domestic electricity generation from wind power is 6 billion

But despite this growth and the associated reduction in CO2 emissions, one source of wind power – offshore wind production, electricity generation from wind turbines stationed in the sea – is almost completely missing. Despite its thousands of kilometers of coastline, the U.S. has only about 30 MW of offshore wind production from a single operational utility-scale wind farm. This pales in comparison to other parts of the world, particularly Europe, which has more than 25 GW of offshore grid-connected wind capacity from more than 100 offshore wind farms.

But as the von Biden government, state governments and utility companies give priority to tackling climate change by further reducing carbon emissions, the US has looked to the European example; If the current plans work, the US could soon compete with Europe in the use of offshore wind.

Through a mixture of legislation and executive action, several Atlantic states and Oregon have set ambitious targets for offshore wind energy totaling 41.5 GW. And many of these states have at least one offshore wind project with a power purchase agreement or that has been approved to receive offshore wind energy credits – so-called ORECs – under government renewable programs.

The federal government is also pushing ahead with the necessary environmental assessments for several projects on the east coast at an unprecedented pace, with the aim of starting assessments for 10 projects this year. And while most of the development interest has been in Massachusetts and Virginia, several areas for potential development have also been identified off North Carolina and South Carolina.

There is also great interest in the development of offshore wind in the Great Lakes region and on the west coast. In the Great Lakes, the 20.7 MW Icebreaker Wind project near Cleveland continues and hopes to begin construction next year. The hope is that this project will be the first of many in the region.

On the Pacific coast, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has identified five “call areas” for potential development – three off the California coast and two off the Oahu coast. The development of these Pacific locations and many locations in the Great Lakes region requires floating turbines due to the depths in these areas.

The recent final approval of the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts also contributes to the optimism for offshore wind. This project will consist of 62 13 MW turbines with a generation capacity of 800 MW. And the project’s developers – Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners – recently secured $ 2.3 billion in funding from nine banks to build the project. After the final approval and financing, the construction of an onshore substation and the construction of the offshore facilities can begin.

Several states are also positioning themselves as hubs for offshore wind development. States are rebuilding port facilities to accommodate the large components of offshore turbines, and some are planning to build large manufacturing facilities at or near the ports for turbine towers, nacelles (the casing with the generator and gearbox), and other large components. The US shipping industry is also paying attention, and the first Jones Act-compliant turbine installation ship in Brownsville, Texas, has already laid the keel. Several more Jones Act installation vessels, as well as vessels needed to move workers and components from port to installation site, are in the planning stages.

It remains to be seen whether the commitments, targets and purchase agreements will lead to installed turbines. The environmental approval process is still a challenge for offshore wind developers, as the inspections by the BOEM take years. And even when BOEM approved the first project, Vineyard Wind off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, several lawsuits were filed criticizing BOEM’s approach under federal environmental law.

There is significant tension between offshore developers, the fishing industry and some local residents who oppose the projects. In addition, the ability to connect to the onshore grid is still a work in progress and requires significant upgrades to the power system, largely funded by the offshore wind developers. Again, these upgrades require extensive regulatory procedures with uncertainty about the final cost and commissioning date of the required infrastructure improvements.

Still, there is considerable reason to be optimistic. While President Bidden calls for more action to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, he is prioritizing the development of offshore wind energy as a vital component of the US to meet its recent commitments. His government has taken aggressive action to identify new areas for offshore wind leases and announced plans to complete the review of 16 construction and operations plans by 2025, which will be the final BOEM environmental permits. Efforts are also being made to improve the domestic supply chain for the turbines, ships and port infrastructure necessary to build a significant and self-sustaining offshore wind industry.

As Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm stated in support of the Biden government’s offshore wind development goals, “The DOE will assemble every resource we have to get as many American companies using as much American sheet steel and as many American workers as possible employ in offshore wind energy – driving economic growth from coast to coast. “If these goals are achieved, in a few years more and more electricity from the country will flow ashore with the sea wind.

The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which are committed to trust principles of integrity, independence and bias. Westlaw Today is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently from Reuters News.

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