Biden Blueprint Seeks to Unleash Offshore Wind Energy
East Coast, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Waters Targeted
3/29/21 4:59 PM
MARCH 29, 2021.....The pipeline of offshore wind developments that will follow the first-in-the-nation Vineyard Wind I project came into clearer view Monday when the Biden administration announced a goal of creating almost 80,000 jobs by tapping into 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.
Between Vineyard Wind, the 800-megawatt project in line to be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, the 804-megawatt Mayflower Wind project that is under contract with utilities here, and an upcoming solicitation that seeks a project of up to 1,600 megawatts that can come online by the end of the decade, Massachusetts is poised to fulfill about 10 percent of the nationwide goal for 2030.
The Biden administration's announcements Monday, which it said were part of a "government-wide effort to advance offshore wind" as an economic engine and a powerful tool against climate change, fill in some of the rest of the industry picture and come as Massachusetts is discussing investments to encourage the growing offshore wind industry to establish a base of operations here, a priority of House Speaker Ronald Mariano.
Last week, the speaker said he would work this session "to authorize a large-scale bonding effort to establish the South Coast of Massachusetts as a regional hub of the offshore wind energy industry" and likened his idea to the way the state has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into growing the life sciences sector here over the last decade-plus.
"It's to support training, growth and ancillary businesses that may develop around the creation of turbines and the installation of the pads for the turbines, creation of the propellers," Mariano said Friday when asked about his vision at the signing ceremony for the new climate law. "We could create all sorts of incentives, but mainly we have to begin to develop a workforce. If we want to be a serious contender in this, we need a workforce that can get out and put these things up."
The speaker added, "And we're going to need money. If we want to be serious about being a hub and create an industry that looks like our biotech industry, we're gonna have to be serious about putting some money into it."
When the House's budget for fiscal year 2022 is released next month, it is expected to commit $10 million to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to train workers for jobs in the offshore wind industry and Mariano has said he asked Rep. Jeff Roy, the new House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, to look into ways "to improve our wind energy workforce pipeline going forward."
Gov. Charlie Baker, whose administration is working to get Massachusetts to the point where it can bring about 1,000 MW (or 1 gigawatt) of offshore wind power online each year in the 2030s, suggested last week that he would rather use federal money, perhaps as part of the forthcoming infrastructure bill, to prop up the offshore wind industry here at least to begin with.
"It's quite likely that we also could do something here in Massachusetts but, generally speaking, the federal resources are so much more significant they may be a better place for us to go," the governor said. "But I look forward to discussing that one with the speaker. I think we all have the same basic objective here, which is to make sure we take advantage of our first-in-the-nation proposal and procurement and make sure that we have in place the ability to benefit significantly from that economically."
Of course, the only way for Massachusetts or any other state to establish itself as a hub for the offshore wind industry is for the federal government to start permitting offshore wind projects. Right now, there are just seven offshore wind turbines in operation in the United States -- five turbines make up the 30-MW project off Rhode Island's Block Island and a two-turbine pilot project is generating power off the coast of Virginia.
"I think the first thing we need is a federal government that will actually approve some projects," Baker said Friday. He added, "I happen to think that at this point, we should be able to move pretty quickly. And we now have the first one before the current administration but we also have a second one that will be pending before them not too long from now, and I fully expect the third one that we'll have will be in the next, probably in the next 18 months."
This month, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management completed its environmental review of the Vineyard Wind I project, which is expected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts starting in late 2023, produce at least 3,600 jobs, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion, and eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
That project, which currently calls for 62 turbines, is expected to be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the country. Right behind Vineyard Wind in the federal pipeline is South Fork Wind, a 132-MW project that plans to generate power for New York from 15 turbines.
On Monday, BOEM added a third project to its pipeline with the announcement that it will begin to prepare a formal environmental analysis for the 1,110-MW Ocean Wind project that plans to generate power off the New Jersey coast. The Department of the Interior said BOEM "anticipates initiating the environmental reviews for up to ten additional projects later this year."
Mayflower Wind, the second project under contract with Massachusetts utilities, could be among those projects to begin the environmental impact statement process later this year. The state and its utilities are expected to select a third offshore wind project to contract with by the end of this year.
When the Biden administration announced its 2030 goal following a forum that featured U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the secretaries of energy, commerce, and transportation, as well as representatives from states, the offshore wind industry, and organized labor, it also said it had identified nearly 800,000 acres in the New York Bight, an expanse of ocean between Long Island and the New Jersey coast, as wind energy areas that could eventually be divided up and leased for offshore wind farms.
So far, the federal government has activated 16 commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast but the appetite for the cleaner power is increasing as more states set renewable energy and carbon emissions reduction targets.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the Biden administration's announcement Monday "leaves no doubt that America's offshore wind industry is now in full gear." He said his city, which is expected to play a major role as the onshore hub for the Vineyard Wind I project, stands ready to facilitate future projects in the New York Bight as well.
"At the same time, most of the seafood caught in the Bight, by dollar value, is landed in New Bedford, America's top commercial fishing port. We are grateful that in determining the boundaries of the new wind energy areas, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has taken pains to balance the interests of the wind and fishing industries based on the best available scientific data," Mitchell said. "While some tailoring of the boundaries may be necessary to avoid the most heavily fished areas, the announcement represents substantial progress after years of inaction."
The commercial fishing industry has been among the most vocal opponents of aspects of the Vineyard Wind project and the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) has repeatedly urged the new administration to ensure the voices of the industry are heard throughout the licensing and permitting process.
In comments submitted earlier this month in response to BOEM review of the South Fork project, RODA said the present is "a time of significant confusion and change in the U.S. approach to offshore wind energy (OSW) planning" and detailed mitigation measures it wants to see incorporated into all projects.
"To be clear, none of these requests are new -- nor hardly radical. They have simply been ignored again, and again, and again in a political push/pull between multinational energy companies and the U.S. government, leaving world-famous seafood, and the communities founded around its harvest, off the table," the group said in a press release last week. Some of RODA's suggestions were analyzed as part of BOEM's Vineyard Wind review.
The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday announced it is opening up applications for $230 million in port and intermodal projects to support offshore wind and the Department of Energy released a fact sheet on access for the industry to $3 billion in funding through an Innovative Energy Loan Guarantee Program.
"The full environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind can only be realized if we, as a nation, come together to ensure all potential development is considered and advanced responsibly, with transparency, robust stakeholder and tribal engagement and scientific integrity guiding our every move forward," Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said. "A central component to our success will be creating greater certainty for industry, state and local governments, tribal nations and stakeholders."
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