Interior proposes 5-year schedule for offshore wind sales

By Heather Richards | 01/12/2023 04:19 PM EST

Wind turbines

Three of Deepwater Wind's five turbines, the nation's first offshore wind farm, stand in the water off Block Island, R.I. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

The Biden administration plans to mandate a five-year schedule for offshore wind auctions, mirroring the pace of offshore oil sale planning currently called for in federal law.

The schedule, a longtime ask of the budding wind industry, is one of several updates the Interior Department recommended Thursday in a proposed rule that would revise the decade-old standards that govern renewable energy off the nation’s coasts.

Developers are expected to build the first large-scale offshore wind farms in the U.S. this year, the beginning of a potentially rapid expansion in offshore wind power due to mature technology, coastal state support and the Biden administration’s target of raising enough wind farms by 2030 to power 10 million homes.

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“America’s clean energy transition is happening right here and now,” Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Updating these regulations will facilitate the safe and efficient development of offshore wind energy resources, provide certainty to developers and help ensure a fair return to the U.S. taxpayers.”

Other provisions in the proposal from Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) would give the bureau more flexibility in how it conducts competitive auctions as well as update some of the terms of financial assurances required for wind farms, like when rent is due once a lease is bought at auction.

The proposed regulations, which the department said will be published in the Federal Register soon with a 60-day comment period, could save industry $1 billion over 20 years, according to the department.

BOEM’s predecessor, the Minerals Management Service, first inked the offshore renewable regulations in 2009, during the Obama administration. BOEM has since grown its renewable office and held 11 auctions for offshore wind development rights. It manages 27 active leases off both coasts, the bureau wrote in its proposal.

“Based on this experience, the Department has identified opportunities to modernize its regulations to facilitate the development of offshore wind energy resources to meet U.S. climate and renewable energy objectives,” the bureau wrote.

Some offshore wind procedures would stay the same or get modest changes.

For example, BOEM suggests skipping the optional “request for interest” step in the leasing process and proceeding to the mandated “call for information and nominations.”

Meanwhile, BOEM’s current auction regulations would be replaced with a more flexible description, allowing the bureau to use “any procedure that is objective, fair, reasonable, and competitive; awards a lease based upon the highest total bid; and provides a fair return to the United States.”

The proposed leasing schedule would be updated every two years and include a general description of the area for potential lease and the year of the sale.

Josh Kaplowitz, vice president of offshore wind at the American Clean Power Association, said the group was still reviewing the proposal but called it a “major step in the right direction.”

“Updating and enhancing BOEM’s rule-making process is critical to ensure the offshore wind industry maintains momentum in the permitting and deployment of clean energy,” he said in a statement.