A summit on offshore wind at the White House? Whatever next? How things have – and are – changing in the US offshore wind market. Offshore wind energy potential in the US is enormous, but as has been evident with early efforts, so are the challenges to making offshore projects a reality. That said, things really do seem to be happening in the US, and this summer has seen major developments in the nascent offshore wind industry in the country, including the start of construction on the first offshore windfarm in the country. In a milestone for the industry, the ‘steel in water’ moment earlier this summer on the Block Island windfarm is expected to lead the way for many similar projects in the US.
US Wind has started survey work on the seabed in the area it leased for commercial wind development off Ocean City, survey work that will inform the company’s efforts to design and install foundations for the 68 turbines that make up the first phase of the planned 500MW project. On the US West Coast, there is state support for a demonstration of floating offshore wind in Oregon after Governor Kate Brown announced the formation of the WindFloat Pacific Offshore Wind Advisory Committee to identify pathways to procure the project in Oregon. Local support for offshore wind exists in many coastal communities, including in Virginia, where more than 50 organisations recently wrote to Governor Terry McAuliffe to urge him to support policies that would promote offshore wind in Virginia and in early September, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a meeting with the South Carolina Renewable Energy Task Force to discuss an upcoming call for public comment on commercial wind lease areas off South Carolina.
More recently still, the White House summit gathered together leading federal, state and industry stakeholders committed to the long-term and sustainable development of the industry. By 2030, says the White House, offshore wind is expected to supply 22,000MW of clean energy.
At the meeting the White House also announced the establishing of an Interagency Working Group on Offshore Wind, which will ensure effective coordination among federal agencies working on offshore wind. It also announced that the Department of Energy is funding a multi-state project with New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which will produce a regional roadmap for offshore wind. The roadmap will lay out a path to develop offshore wind on the scale needed to achieve economies of scale and establish a regional supply chain. BOEM has also begun discussions with offshore wind regulators in the UK, Denmark and Germany regarding the establishment of an International Offshore Wind Regulators Forum.
Last but by no means least, BOEM also recently announced two significant actions with respect to its renewable energy leasing programme: on 17 September, it announced it had completed an environmental review of three Wind Energy Areas offshore North Carolina, and determined that there would be no significant socioeconomic or environmental impacts associated with issuing wind energy leases; and on 25 September it published a Final Sale Notice announcing that it will offer approximately 344,000 acres offshore New Jersey for commercial wind energy leasing. That lease sale will take place on 9 November and, if fully developed, New Jersey wind energy areas could support about 3.4GW of commercial wind generation. BOEM has already awarded nine commercial wind leases, including seven through its competitive lease sale process (two offshore Rhode Island-Massachusetts, two offshore Massachusetts, two offshore Maryland and one offshore Virginia).
Progress getting offshore wind off the drawing board and into the water has been painfully slow at times in the US, but the industry is gaining momentum at last. With the right policy support – at federal and state level – real progress is now possible.
An Energy Department report released in late September shows strong progress in the US. Apart from Block Island, the report describes 20 other projects totalling 15,650MW in the planning and development pipeline. Of these 21 projects, 13 projects totalling nearly 6,000MW are in the more advanced stages of development; 12 projects with more than 3,300MW planned have announced a commercial operation date by 2020.