Offshore wind farms are back. This time for real.

Joe Biden wants to "jumpstart' the offshore energy industry which was buried under Trump. It's way past time.

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The Biden administration moved gleefully this week to tear down the regulatory barriers to offshore wind farms that the previous administration had intentionally built apparently because, as our former President put it, “windmills kill too many birds.” Coming from a man who has never had an animal companion, that concern seems a bit misplaced but whatever floats your dingy, as we used to say in West Virginia.

All U.S. offshore wind energy projects have been stalled for nearly three years since the Trump administration hit the brakes in 2019 on the Vineyard Wind project, an 800-megawatt wind energy project located 15 nautical miles off Martha's Vineyard.

The state of Massachusetts expects that project when completed to supply renewable energy for over 400,000 homes and businesses across the state, while lowering electricity costs, reducing electricity rates, and cutting carbon emissions by over 1.6 million tons a year.

Vineyard Wind was submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for final permitting in December of 2017 and was expected to be quickly approved and become the nation’s first utility-sized wind farm at sea. It would probably be in service by now had the Trump administration not ordered—just days before final approval—an 18-month delay while a cumulative environmental impact of all proposed offshore projects was conducted.

Under the new administration, BOEM has quickly completed its long-delayed environmental review of Vineyard Wind 1 and the project is once more moving forward. Vineyard Wind is expected to reach financial close in the second half of 2021 and begin delivering clean energy to Massachusetts in 2023.

Vineyard Wind CEO Lars T. Pedersen, who is nothing if not an optimist, said in a statement:

“More than three years of federal review and public comment is nearing its conclusion and 2021 is poised to be a momentous year for our project and the broader offshore wind industry. Offshore wind is a historic opportunity to build a new industry that will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs, reduce electricity rates for consumers and contribute significantly to limiting the impacts of climate change. We look forward to reaching the final step in the federal permitting process and being able to launch an industry that has such tremendous potential for economic development in communities up and down the Eastern seaboard.”

Vineyard Wind is only one of several offshore wind projects that have arisen from the dead in the first three months of the Biden administration. Biden has launched a series of aggressive initiatives to “jumpstart” the offshore energy industry and make it a cornerstone of his ambitious plan to boost economic recovery and combat climate change.

Earlier this week, BOEM designated nearly 800,000 acres as Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) in the New York Bight, between Long Island and the New Jersey coast. The agency will now initiate an environmental review, with public input, on these areas in federal waters for potential offshore wind leasing. There is a new 30% investment tax credit for projects in the water before 2026.

The Departments of Interior (DOI), Energy (DOE), and Commerce (DOC) have set a shared goal to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind in the United States by 2030, with the usual caveats about protecting biodiversity and not putting commercial fishermen out of business. A White House statement claims:

Meeting this 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. It will also generate enough power to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes for a year, and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

Offshore wind is one of those big ideas, like cold fusion and quantum computing, that has been percolating under the radar for so long it feels a bit like a mirage. This time it appears offshore energy has finally arrived. Billions of dollars will be invested in the next several years to erect hundreds of wind turbines on the East and West coasts and to build transmission infrastructure onshore.

New Jersey has raised its goal from 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind-generated electricity by 2030 to 7,500 megawatts by 2035.  That's enough to power half of the state's 1.5 million homes. Ørsted, the company that built the world’s first offshore wind farm in Denmark and the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. in Rhode Island, has been contracted to build New Jersey’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm—Ocean Wind, about 15 miles off Atlantic City. Eight other states along the Eastern Seaboard have embarked on similar endeavors which surely signals the arrival of a new era in American energy

Both Vineyard Wind and Ocean Wind will utilize the GE Haliade-X 12 MW turbine, produced by GE Wind Energy, which is the most powerful turbine on the market today. These structures are 853 feet tall (taller than the Washington Monument) with a rotor blade diameter of 722 feet. This allows the builders to use fewer turbines and be less of a potential disruption to the fishing industry.

Aside from damage from hurricanes and other natural hazards, wind farms pose few public safety issues. Europe has been building them since 1991 when the Vindeby Wind Farm became operational off the coast of the Danish island of Lolland.

Today, there are 116 wind farms off 12 European nations delivering 25 GW of power from grid-connected wind turbines. With a lot of investment, European countries are on track to deliver 111 GW of wind capacity by 2030.

There are a number of engineering challenges facing the industry as the rollout accelerates. Eric Hines, a structural engineer who leads a team at Tufts University that tracks offshore wind development, believes there must be better coordination between the federal government, states, and developers of individual projects to avoid a tangle of undersea cables that he calls “spaghetti in the ocean.” He is also concerned that if everybody does their own thing it will overload and damage the grid.

The timing is perfect for stimulus from the federal and state governments to drive change by supporting the coordination and build-out of an ocean grid transmission system. Such a system can help ensure the success of US offshore wind and make our aging coastal grid more secure and resilient…We must recognize that onshore points of interconnection are critical to how we scale offshore wind.

There is nothing especially controversial about offshore wind farms (unless you have friends with money in the fossil fuel industry or own golf resorts on the ocean and fear somebody might want to build one within sight or earshot of your property.) But, hey, I’m sure he really was concerned for the birds.

Dig Deeper

FACT SHEET: Biden Administration Jumpstarts Offshore Wind Energy Projects to Create Jobs (White House)

Biden Boosts Offshore Wind Energy, Wants to Power 10 Million Homes (AP)

1,500 Wind Turbines. 2,700 Square Miles. Offshore Wind in the Atlantic Will Be Big. Really Big

Offshore Wind Energy

New transmission infrastructure needed for offshore wind (CommonWealth)

Final Environmental Statement on Vineyard Wind (BOEM)

Feds Complete Final Environmental Review Of Vineyard Wind, Set To Be First Major Offshore Wind Project In U.S.

U.S. Offshore Wind Needs to Clear a Key Hurdle: Connecting to the Grid

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