Interior takes major steps on offshore wind in Atlantic, Gulf

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News • Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Biden administration has begun a process that will bring offshore wind turbines to the Carolinas and the Gulf of Mexico. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Biden administration is planning to extend the fledgling offshore wind sector’s footprint deeper into the southern Atlantic and into the Gulf of Mexico, Interior Department officials announced yesterday.

In addition to taking the first steps to offering lease sales off the coasts of North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will begin the environmental review of a Massachusetts offshore wind project, the 11th proposed wind array advanced by the administration this year.

“These milestones represent great potential for addressing climate change through a clean, reliable, domestic energy resource while providing good-paying jobs,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement, adding a promise to “responsibly and sustainably” move on the administration’s offshore wind goals.

The White House has promised to support deployment of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, part of its larger climate-focused decarbonization efforts. The commitment could result in the federal government’s greenlighting 16 major offshore wind farms in U.S. waters, where currently just two pilot-scale projects spin.

The announcements yesterday include a proposed lease sale notice off the coast of North Carolina. The proposed area for lease includes 127,865 acres, which is much of the Wilmington East Wind Energy Area, enough to support up to 1.5 GW of power. The public will have 60 days to weigh in on the proposal once it’s published in the Federal Register on Monday. That input will determine whether BOEM proceeds with the sale.

BOEM is also inviting the offshore wind industry to propose areas for potential leasing across a 30-million-acre swath of the Gulf of Mexico, following the coastline from south Louisiana to the Mexico border.

Should BOEM move forward with leasing in the Gulf after the call for commercial interest is complete, it will perform an environmental review of the area in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and consult with state and tribal authorities before it holds the sale, the agency noted in its release yesterday.

For its part, Louisiana has been supportive of potential offshore wind development in the Gulf, where it already has an active offshore workforce and supply chain associated with the oil sector. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) earlier this year convened a renewable energy task force to work with BOEM on future leasing potential.

Lastly, BOEM is proceeding with an environmental review of the Mayflower Wind project. The 147-turbine proposal would be located roughly 30 miles south of the Martha’s Vineyard. The environmental review process is the critical federal approval necessary to raise wind turbines in U.S. waters. It takes up to two years to complete.