US Offshore Wind Says The Quiet Part Out Loud: Fossil Fuel Is Toast

Source: By Tina Casey, CleanTechnica • Posted: Monday, May 2, 2022

floating offshore wind turbines US CA WA OR
Image: Floating turbines via National Renewable Energy Laboratory (credit: Josh Bauer, NREL).

Russia’s murderous rampage through Ukraine has lit a spark of hope in the chests of fossil fuel stakeholders, who are banking on the war to spur more oil, gas, and coal extraction. However, they better keep that bubbly on ice. In the latest indication that the fossil fuel economy is withering on the vine, the Biden-Harris Administration is forging ahead with new offshore wind plans that will go where no wind turbines have ever gone before.

More Offshore Wind Energy For The US, Finally

The technical electricity generation potential for wind turbines located in US waters is more than 2,000 gigawatts, but almost none of it has been tapped as yet. To date, the nation’s stock of offshore wind turbines in commercial operation clocks in for a combined capacity of just 42 megawatts, shared between a 5-turbine array in Rhode Island and a 2-turbine pilot project in Virginia.

Political interference has gummed up the works along the Atlantic coast, while economic and political factors are both at work in the Gulf coast, and technology challenges have stymied offshore development along the Pacific coast.

So much for the bad news. The good news is that the US offshore wind industry has plenty of room to grow. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management laid the groundwork for a growth spurt several years ago by developing the nation’s first ever streamlined process for leasing federal areasfor offshore wind development.

BOEM put the finishing touches on that process during the Trump administration, which is somewhat ironic considering the former President’s notorious aversion to wind turbines, especially those located offshore.

Nevertheless, the process is finally in place, and the US offshore wind industry is poised to blow right past President Biden’s somewhat modest goal of 30 gigawatts by 2030.

Last September, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory ran the numbers and observed that the US wind industry is off to a healthy re-start, with projects totaling more than 3.5 gigawatts already in the pipeline.

Unclogging The West Coast Offshore Wind Pipeline: Group Hug For US Taxpayers

So far, all that pipeline activity is taking place along the Atlantic coast, where the relatively shallow waters enable standard fixed-platform, monopile offshore wind turbine construction. The Pacific states are far more challenging, as the water is generally too deep for standard turbine construction.

That’s where new floating turbine technology comes in. The field has taken off like a rocket in recent years, thanks in part to taxpayers in the US, who funded early-stage floating turbine R&D at the Energy Department’s test site in Coos Bay, Oregon during the Obama administration.

Despite its lead status in floating wind turbine R&D, the US has played second fiddle in terms of commercial development. During the Trump administration, other nations grabbed the floating turbine ball and paddled it out to sea. However, that was then, and now it looks like BOEM is making up for lost time.

Last week, the Interior Department announced that BOEM has put out the call for information regarding two new lease programs. One will involve the central Atlantic coast, which is no surprise. The other one will go to Oregon, and that is big news for the floating offshore wind industry.

“The Oregon Call, the first action of its type off the Oregon coast, requests information on two areas that together comprise approximately 1,158,400 acres,” BOEM explained. “Both areas — the Coos Bay Call Area and the Brookings Call Area — begin about 12 nautical miles from shore at their closest points, off the coast of central and southern Oregon, respectively.”

Wait, Why Are They Doing This?

Those of you familiar with Oregon may be wondering why the state is getting an offshore wind lease area for its sparsely populated lower tiers. Good question! Strong offshore winds in that region are a tantalizing target. According to BOEM, this part of the Oregon coast has some of the strongest winds in the nation. The only problem is what to do with the clean kilowatts once you get them.

To answer that question, they turned to NREL, which took a look at the onshore transmission grid.

“NREL estimated that approximately 2.6 gigawatts of offshore wind could be physically integrated into Oregon’s onshore power system without major trans-coastal upgrades or curtailments if it were distributed along five existing points of interconnection along the Oregon coast,” BOEM noted.

We’re guessing that green hydrogen could also be in play. NREL has already taken note of the relationship between green hydrogen production and offshore wind development. The idea would be to soak up excess generating capacity by producing hydrogen at the turbine array, or onshore. Hydrogen can be transported by ship, rail, road, or pipeline, which provides additional distribution options for offshore wind energy.

More Offshore Wind For California

The forthcoming Oregon activity will take a while to come forth. BOEM has been meeting with tribal leaders and other local stakeholders over the past months, and last Friday it launched a 60-day public comment period (chime in by June 28 if you want to add your two cents).

In the meantime, floating offshore wind activity has been picking up steam in California, where BOEM has been assessing two floating turbine sites for the Golden State.

As for Washington State, it seems that some industry stakeholders just can’t wait.

Last month, our friends over at E&E News reported that the US company Trident Winds has put in an unsolicited request for a federal lease worth up to 2 gigawatts, to be located off the coast of Grays Harbor County in Washington.

If Trident Winds rings a bell, you may have caught wind of the company’s interest in the waters of California. Last March, CleanTechnica took note of  the proposed 1-gigawatt Castle Wind array in California, which initially joined Trident Winds with the EU company EnBW. TotalEnergies later acquired EnBW’s stake.

Interesting! No word yet on whether or not TotalEnergies will follow Trident to Washington State, but the TotalEnergies has been on a roll of late. Earlier this year, the company reached an agreement with EnBW to take sole ownership of the newly won offshore lease area in the much-coveted New York Bight, which is a densely populated corner of the ocean formed by New York City and Long Island with the coast of New Jersey.

TotalEnergies’ New York Bight lease area is worth a cool 3 gigawatts or more, so hold on to your hats. Startup is expected in 2028 if all goes according to plan.

All this is by way of saying that the technology and the political support for picking up the pace of global decarbonization are already in place. Now that Russia has provided a brutal demonstration of the geopolitical consequences of clinging to the fossil energy economy, there is all the more reason to cut the cord as quickly as possible.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.