Optimism abounds for offshore wind

This is the fifteenth in our series on “The ABCs of AJP”.

Historically, offshore wind has represented a very small percentage of the total power generation portfolio in the United States. The winds of change are blowing, however, as the Biden administration American employment plan (“AJP”), among other federal measures, signals a new commitment to harness this renewable energy source.

In the AJP, the Administration explains that one of its objectives is to “[e]make the United States a leader in climate science, innovation and R&D. As part of this effort, the Authority has committed to investing in demonstration floating offshore wind projects. This isn’t the only recent federal action that signaled Washington’s new support for offshore wind. In December, Congress extended investment and project tax credits for offshore wind projects. The following month, the Administration summed up a collection of federal actions highlighting its commitment to create 30 gigawatts (“GW”) of electricity from offshore wind by 2030.

Government actions have already made it possible to make impressive progress in achieving this goal. EPA recently authorized the construction and operation of the Vineyard Wind Offshore Wind project, which will generate 800 megawatts (“MW”) of electricity off the coast of Massachusetts. Other projects are currently under environmental review, including a project off the coast of New Jersey, which could produce 1,100 MW of electricity; and one project off the coast of Rhode Island, which could produce up to 880 MW of electricity. Other projects are likely. In 2019, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (“BOEM”) published a declaration explaining that he had “15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development that could support more than 21 gigawatts of generation capacity.”

While the states on the Atlantic coast have seen a wave of recent activity, states along the Pacific coast promise to play an important role in achieving the administration’s goals. California in particular seems well positioned to become a leader in offshore wind. A recent study estimates that California has over 200 GW of potential offshore wind capacity, of which 8.4 GW exists in current BOEM “call areas” off the central and northern coast of California. For reference, the California Energy Commission valued as of 2018, California had approximately 80 GW of statewide power generation capacity. These figures clearly show that offshore wind in California could go a long way towards meeting the Biden administration’s production target.

Offshore wind is now poised to play an important role in meeting states’ emission reduction targets, including California’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045. After all, it is. is a natural complement to the robust solar production of California: it resumes in the evening when the sun rises. down and remains a solid resource overnight. Offshore wind therefore offers a route to 24-hour electricity from renewable resources.

Although offshore wind has yet to be used in California, a recent joint energy agency study concluded that California will need to operate at least 10 GW of offshore wind to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Some do not want to wait that long and are considering aggressive interim targets for offshore wind production. A previous version of California Assembly Bill 525, proposed formal offshore wind targets for the state, including 3 GW by 2030 and 10 GW by 2040.

Just this week, California and the federal government signaled their commitment to harnessing this renewable resource to achieve their respective goals. Governor Newsom and the Biden administration on Tuesday announced plans to sell offshore wind leases in two of the three existing BOEM call areas: large plots in Morro Bay and off the coast of Humboldt County. It is estimated that installing turbines on floating platforms 20 to 30 miles off the coast in these areas could generate a total of 4.6 GW of electricity – enough to power 1.6 million homes. Officials are optimistic that the lease sale will take place in 2022.

Despite the optimism of the states and the federal government, certain obstacles will have to be overcome. In addition to the concerns of environmentalists and the fishing industry, some of these concerns include:

  • Design challenges The areas that have the greatest potential for offshore wind in California are much deeper than their Atlantic counterparts. As such, the turbines cannot be mounted on the seabed, but will need to be placed on floating platforms. This technology is currently expensive, but the rapid technological advancements in the offshore wind industry in Europe could be cause for optimism.
  • Ocean use conflicts Historically, the US Navy has expressed concerns about offshore wind farms in California, which poses problems with Navy readiness exercises along the coast. However, the Navy recently changed course and explained that it was willing to coordinate regarding the location of a wind farm in Morro Bay, California.
  • Transmission capacity Since the offshore wind farms will be located in federal waters several kilometers from the coast, the transmission of the electricity produced will require the construction of new transmission capacity, including transmission lines at the bottom of the sea. which extend for several kilometers. These lines will then have to connect to the existing terrestrial network. Fortunately, two BOEM calling areas in California – Morro Bay and Diablo Canyon – have existing transportation infrastructure that could provide potential grid connection points for electricity produced by offshore wind power: a nuclear power plant scheduled for retirement in Diablo Canyon; and a power plant in Morro. The Bay.
  • Installation bottleneck As some have pointed out, a century-old law, the Jones Act, poses logistical problems for the installation and maintenance of offshore wind turbines. The Jones Act restricts the movement of goods by water between US ports to ships that are: US built, US registered, and owned by a US citizen. But installing turbines requires specialized vessels that the United States does not have. For its part, the Administration sees it as an opportunity as much as an obstacle. He noted that building a new fleet will be an important source of union jobs. The Administration recently pointed out that offshore wind has already generated jobs in onshore supply chains, including the steel industry and shipyards, as the United States builds its “first ship.” wind turbine installation in accordance with the Jones Act ”. A report describes the construction of this ship, the Charybdis, such as the creation of 800 jobs at a shipyard in Brownsville, Texas, which has already produced offshore oil rigs.

Time will tell if 30 GW within ten years is achievable given the current obstacles. But the recent pivot from large oil producers to offshore wind bodes well. Oil majors have decades of experience delivering complex offshore projects and accessing the capital and supply chains necessary to build large-scale offshore wind capacity. The Administration’s commitment to supporting the development of offshore wind power can therefore offer it a unique opportunity to join forces with historical players in the fossil fuel industry to achieve its ambitious goals of job creation and reduction of emissions.

About Andrew Estofan

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