This story was updated at 3:07 p.m. EDT.
The Biden administration today announced a bipartisan collaboration with 11 coastal states to work on labor, shipping and manufacturing challenges for the country’s growing offshore wind industry.
Creating a national supply chain to support offshore wind — from manufacturing blades to building the enormous ships needed to raise turbines — is critical if President Joe Biden is to achieve his climate goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
Those hurdles are exacerbated by the growing global demand for turbines components and ships as countries across Europe and Asia also set ever more ambitious climate and clean energy targets that depend on rapidly constructing offshore wind farms.
Biden is meeting today with the participating governors in the coalition, including those from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Only Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, home to the largest single offshore wind project proposed in the U.S., is missing from the group of offshore wind states along the Atlantic seaboard. A spokesperson for the governor said the state has participated in prior calls with the White House and remains fully committed to the offshore wind project in his state.
“The Commonwealth is already a leader in the offshore wind industry, and the Youngkin administration is focused on the economic development opportunities presented by this emerging sector in a way that is consistent with promoting jobs for Virginia,” said spokesperson Macaulay Porter. “We will continue to support any future offshore wind development that meets Virginia’s economic needs and protects ratepayers from high energy costs.”
Also present at the White House meeting will be industry leaders and key climate and labor officials who have already been working on advance offshore wind goals, including national climate adviser Gina McCarthy, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Transportation Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg and NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad.
“Working together — states and the federal government — we can blow the lid off our growing domestic offshore wind industry and get us to our clean energy future faster,” Granholm said in a statement.
The federal and state coalition will first work on identifying logistical issues, manufacturing needs and workforce constraints that may have “regional solutions” or opportunities for public funding. In the future, the working group may turn to issues beyond the supply chain, according to a White House fact sheet.
Among other additional issues is expanding the offshore wind industry beyond the Northeast, into the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, where the Biden administration is already planning initial lease sales. The group will also consider the advantages of aligning state offshore wind targets with federal offshore leasing schedules, according to a fact sheet from the White House.
The Department of Energy will convene a workshop next month with states to advance an offshore wind supply chain road map to be released later in the year, building on a March report on supply chain needs by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
That report flagged the dearth of offshore wind supply and installation vessels both in the U.S. and abroad. To help fill that gap, the Transportation Department today said that offshore wind ships will be considered “Vessels of National Interest” and be given priority review under the Federal Ship Financing Program. The program helps domestic ship manufactures and ports modernize their facilities, as well as build or retrofit vessels, according to a White House fact sheet.
Liz Burdock, CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, praised the coalition in a statement as a step toward creating “thousands of small businesses that will form the backbone of the U.S. offshore wind industry.”
Burdock, who is presenting at the meeting at the White House today, noted that offshore wind contracts have doubled over the last 18 months.
“Along our coasts, the supply chain is coming to life with new manufacturing facilities, ports being rebuilt, and shipbuilding activity,” she said. “With global demand growing exponentially, we need to accelerate this progress to reach our clean energy goals.”
Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, said in a statement collaboration would “propel” the industry further, while noting the administration can also drive “clear and predictable permitting” to support offshore wind growth.
“There is still work to do,” she said. “We look forward to working with the administration as this partnership continues its important work to support this critical industry and our clean energy transition.”
Collaboration vs. competition
States supportive of offshore wind have long sought more leadership and coordination help from the federal government to solve regional problems like transmission constraints and grid integration — difficulties that experts say still need addressing.
But the federal government helping build out a more efficient supply chain is a key near-term demand if the sector is to grow, several experts said.
“This is significant,” said Kris Ohleth, director of the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, in an email, noting it sends a signal to the private sector to invest in manufacturing in the U.S.
“Collaboration of this type will help deliver offshore wind in the most expedient way and at the lowest cost,” Ohleth said.
There are currently just two pilot-scale offshore wind projects spinning off the U.S., representing 42 megawatts of capacity. But more than a dozen projects are navigating the permitting stage. The nation’s first two large offshore wind farms are under construction off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Combined, coastal states are currently seeking 40 GW of offshore wind.
Those wind farms would generate a massive pulse of demand along the Eastern Seaboard, where the first tranche of offshore wind arrays are planned. The promise of economic opportunity has garnered support from political leaders, labor unions and business development organizations.
But states are in many ways competing with each other to capture jobs and supply chain businesses to build and service wind farms, said Fred Zalcman, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance.
“Governors want to do ribbon cuttings,” he said.
That’s where the administration will likely help, trying to replace some of the interstate competition with regional collaboration, so steel components or blade factories are located where they are most serviceable for the industry and states can leverage their individual strengths from workforce to ports, he said.
This is particularly important as the global offshore wind construction ramps up over the next decade, Zalcman noted.
The United Kingdom aims to hit 50 GW of offshore wind by 2030. The European Union aims to reach 60 GW by 2030. Capital spending in offshore wind will double by the end of the decade from $46 billion in 2021 to $102 billion in 2030, according to Rystad Energy.
All of this development could impact the U.S. market.
“There’s a huge opportunity, and also some very significant challenges,” Zalcman said.