Biden launches major push to expand offshore wind

By Heather Richards | 03/29/2021 01:28 PM EDT

The Block Island Wind Farm, pictured here off the coast of Rhode Island, is the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The White House today laid out its strategy to boost the still-nascent industry in this country.

The Block Island Wind Farm, pictured here off the coast of Rhode Island, is the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The White House today laid out its strategy to boost the still-nascent industry in this country. Gary Norton/NREL

The White House today laid out an ambitious strategy to raise the first fleet of American offshore wind farms, announcing specific plans that could boost an eager, but nascent, industry and help the administration meet its climate targets.

President Biden mandated a wind energy lease auction in the New York Bight — a triangle of ocean between Long Island and New Jersey — as early as this year. The administration also committed to approving 16 offshore wind projects by 2025 and said it would direct $230 million in federal transportation dollars to fund port infrastructure and dedicate $3 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy.

In addition, the Interior Department will begin the environmental review process for a major wind farm off the coast of New Jersey, the third project the federal government is currently advancing.


Today’s announcement is the most detailed public plan the administration has offered so far on how it would advance offshore wind, which stagnated during the Trump years, bogged down by the federal permitting process, political uncertainty and growing conflicts with fishermen.

"This offshore wind goal is proof of our commitment to using American ingenuity and might to invest in our nation, advance our own energy security, and combat the climate crisis," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement today.

The Biden administration began with a promise that offshore wind will be a critical piece of its game plan to combat climate change and goose the transition away from fossil fuels.

Biden signed an order shortly after taking office that mandated a doubling of offshore wind capacity. Earlier this month, the Interior Department released its final environmental analysis for Vineyard Wind, the first full-scale offshore wind farm in the country.

The funding and permitting speed announced today underscores a larger goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough energy production to power 10 million homes and offset 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to a White House fact sheet.

But the administration also argued that its actions will create jobs by energizing the supply chain of businesses to support offshore wind, like manufacturing parts and servicing the wind farms.

The White House asserted moving swiftly to deploy offshore wind will drive the creation of several U.S. manufacturing facilities for parts like turbines and nacelles and drive significant demand for U.S. steel. It estimates four to six turbine installation vessels will be built in the U.S. to support the industry, each valued at $250 million to $500 million.

This activity will generate $12 billion per year in capital investments and employ more than 40,000 offshore wind workers by the end of the decade, with an additional 33,000 indirect jobs, according to the White House.

"President Biden has declared very clearly that when he thinks of climate, he thinks of people and jobs — good-paying, union jobs," Gina McCarthy, the president’s chief climate adviser, said in a statement.

She added: "Nowhere is the scale of that opportunity clearer than for offshore wind."

Third farm under review

The Interior Department will supply most of the muscle for the Biden administration’s offshore wind aims. It’s under orders to conduct an environmental analysis and provide a final decision on 16 offshore wind proposals by 2025.

"We’ve put off the transition to clean energy, and now we’re facing a climate crisis," said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. "As our country faces the interlocking challenges of a global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice and the climate crisis — we have to transition to a brighter future for everyone."

There are currently just two pilot-scale offshore wind projects operating off U.S. coasts. The Biden administration’s recent final environmental review for the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts means that project is expected to be the first offshore wind farm of scale in this country. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also is reviewing a second major offshore wind farm, South Fork, off the Rhode Island coast.

As part of the White House announcement, BOEM said it will shortly begin the environmental review process for a third wind farm: the Ocean Wind proposal off the coast of New Jersey that’s estimated to produce enough power to run 500,000 homes.

In addition to permitting and funding opportunities, the Biden administration said it will award $8 million to support 15 offshore wind research and development projects, in partnership with New York. The research will focus on well-known pinch points for the offshore wind sector, like supply chain development, conflict mitigation with other ocean users and innovation of electrical systems.

Offshore wind potential swelled in recent years as the cost to develop the massive power projects fell. Its growth was also spurred by coastal states, like New York, which announced mandates to use offshore wind power in massive quantities to meet ambitious climate targets.

More than a dozen developers have proposed wind farms along the East Coast. Interior has estimated as many as 2,000 turbines could be raised by the end of the decade.

But offshore wind has stalled in recent years as the Trump administration took a closer look at how the rapid expansion of offshore wind could affect other ocean users, largely commercial fishermen.

The Trump administration pumped the brakes in 2019 by withholding a final decision on Vineyard Wind, prompting complaints from the industry about political interference.

But commercial fishermen have also continued to raise concerns about how they will navigate among thousands of turbines and pressed for greater analysis. The first offshore wind farms in the U.S. are widely expected to inspire litigation from critics.

The Biden plan included nods to this conflict, with $1 million in grant funding set aside through the Commerce Department to study offshore wind’s impacts.

In a statement, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo signaled that her agency, which includes the marine wildlife manager NOAA Fisheries, will be tasked with the role of finding solutions to conflicts with fishermen.

She said Commerce would be "committed to innovative partnerships that advance the best science and data to ensure the development of offshore wind is transparent and inclusive of all stakeholders."

NOAA will also sign an agreement with Danish offshore wind developer Ørsted AS to share ocean data from the company’s U.S. lease areas, officials said.

NOAA and Interior often butted heads over offshore wind in recent years, and it was a conflict within those agencies that preceded the Trump administration stalling Vineyard Wind’s permitting process in 2019.

Raimondo stressed that today’s call with several Cabinet secretaries was evidence of the collaboration that would happen under Biden, and she acknowledged that offshore wind is "easy to talk about, hard to do."

"If you take one thing away from this afternoon’s meeting, it’s that," she said. "We are the gang that is going to shoot straight."