Policy shifts could spur lagging U.S. offshore wind development — report

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 12, 2016

The federal government should overhaul its policies to boost prospects for offshore wind as U.S. deployment lags behind Europe’s, according to a report released today by the departments of the Interior and Energy.

The Obama administration’s first strategy document on the technology in five years outlines 34 federal actions that could spur turbine installations.

For example, agencies should focus on understanding seafloor conditions to improve turbine designs and reduce costs, as well as conduct more studies of how turbines may affect human use of ocean waters, the report says. Interior proposed the joint development of standard data collection guidelines.

“Currently, there is a significant lack of data describing meteorological, oceanographic, and geologic/manmade conditions at potential project sites offshore of the United States,” it says. “There is also a lack of standardized methodologies for gathering these data.”

Larger turbines could reduce costs, the report says. There also could be changes to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s regulatory process and more assessments of the effect of large amounts of offshore wind on the grid.

The report highlights comments from developers suggesting that some design specifics be postponed in initial submitted documents, such as which exact turbine to use, to speed up reviews.

“Improved understanding and further collaboration will allow for increased efficiency of environmental reviews,” the report says.

The strategy document comes as Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visit Boston to commemorate completion of the nation’s first offshore wind farm. The Block Island Wind Farm is expected to provide 30 megawatts of power to Rhode Island customers later this year (ClimateWire, Sept. 9).

Jewell and Moniz toured the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Wind Technology Testing Center, which was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to test advanced turbine blades.

Action on offshore wind is critical, the report says, as the market is maturing quickly in Europe and Asia.

More than 12 gigawatts of offshore wind had been deployed globally by the end of 2015, DOE said.

“Recent analysis suggests that much of the cost-reduction progress seen in European markets can translate to the United States as developers leverage best-available European technologies and adapt them to the unique conditions of the United States,” the report says.

There are many challenges to overcome in the United States, including bringing down costs and developing a viable supply chain. The regulatory process “could be further optimized, and data gaps associated with environmental impacts need to be addressed,” the report says.

Last year, DOE’s “Wind Vision” study concluded that 86 GW of offshore wind deployment by midcentury could reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid $50 billion in “global damages.”

As of 2015, the government had awarded 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development that could support a total of 14.6 GW of capacity, according to the study.

Some state policies are pushing the technology forward. A bill just passed in Massachusetts, for example, would require utilities to get 1,600 MW of their power from offshore wind by 2027.

The offshore wind announcement is the start of a three-state tour on renewable energy for Jewell. Next week, she will make announcements about the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan in California and energy on tribal lands in Nevada.