The United States has been dancing around offshore wind for a long time – so long so that we’ve fallen behind our peers in Europe. To date, the only operational offshore wind farm in the U.S. is the five-turbine Block Island installation, which began producing electricity in late 2016. By comparison, Europe’s first offshore wind farm was launched in 1991. According to Wind Europe’s key trends and statistics, the region added 356 new offshore turbines in 2020 alone, increasing their total capacity to 25 gigawatts.
But change is coming to the U.S. offshore wind industry, and for a good reason. The Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) research for offshore wind and development estimates that wind turbines along U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes could generate more than double the energy Americans currently consume. As part of President Joe Biden’s clean energy initiatives, he’s set a goal of having 30 GW of offshore wind power installed by 2030.
How Will the U.S. Reach 30 Gigawatts by 2030?
Offshore wind plans have been in the works for years, but just recently, the pace of development has quickened. Here are a few of the most notable advances:
Vineyard Wind is an 800-megawatt installation planned off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. After several delays, the construction of the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S. will begin in 2022, with completion targeted for 2023. In addition, Vineyard Wind is the first large-scale offshore wind project in the U.S. to close on financing, which it did in September of 2021.
The South Fork Wind project was recently approved for off the coasts of New York and Rhode Island, about 20 miles southeast of Block Island. Construction is expected to start in February 2022. When operational sometime in 2023, the 12 planned turbines should produce around 130 MWs of electricity.
The Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Management are reviewing at least a dozen other potential offshore installations along the East Coast. Two other areas off the coast of California are also earmarked for commercial wind power development.
The Biden Administration will hold the first offshore wind auction in February 2022. Nearly 500,000 acres will be available off the coasts of New York and New Jersey. The administration has also signaled that by 2025 it will lease additional federal waters along the East Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Oregon Coast.
Offshore Wind Benefits
While there are challenges to overcome with offshore wind development, such as mitigating the impact on migratory birds and commercial fishing grounds, it is clearly a priority for the current administration. Offshore wind will create new jobs, revitalize ports, and boost the economy. And, of course, it can replace polluting fossil fuels with carbon-free energy.
If we reach that 30-GW goal set by President Biden, offshore wind energy could power more than 10 million homes. Is 30 GW a feasible goal? Consider that at 800 megawatts, Vineyard Wind could power more than 400,000 homes. South Fork Wind will generate enough energy for an additional 70,000 homes. If the 500,000-acre auction site off the coast of New York and New Jersey is fully developed, that could energize a whopping 2 million homes. That puts this country well on the way to powering 10 million homes with offshore wind energy by 2030 – and it puts us right in line with the more mature European market.