Biden administration plans wind farms along nearly the entire US coastline

The Biden administration has pledged to build 30,000MW of offshore wind in the United States by 2030.
The Biden administration has pledged to build 30,000MW of offshore wind in the United States by 2030.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The Biden administration on Wednesday (Oct 13) announced a plan to develop large-scale wind farms along nearly the entire coastline of the United States, the first long-term strategy from the government to produce electricity from offshore turbines.

Speaking at a wind power industry conference in Boston, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said her agency will begin to identify and demarcate sites and hopes to eventually lease federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine and off the coasts of the mid-Atlantic states, North Carolina, South Carolina, California and Oregon to wind power developers by 2025.

The announcement came months after the Biden administration approved the nation's first commercial offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and began reviewing a dozen other potential offshore wind projects along the east coast of the US.

On the west coast, the administration has approved opening up two areas off the shores of central and northern California for commercial wind power development.

Taken together, the actions represent the most forceful push ever by the federal government to promote offshore wind development.

"The Interior Department is laying out an ambitious road map as we advance the administration's plans to confront climate change, create good-paying jobs and accelerate the nation's transition to a cleaner energy future," Ms Haaland said.

"This timetable provides two crucial ingredients for success: increased certainty and transparency. Together, we will meet our clean energy goals while addressing the needs of other ocean users and potentially impacted communities."

President Joe Biden has pledged to cut the nation's fossil fuel emissions by 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030 through policies promoting the use of electric vehicles and clean energy such as wind and solar power.

In particular, the administration has pledged to build 30,000MW of offshore wind in the US by 2030.

In Congress, Mr Biden is pushing for passage of a major spending Bill that includes a US$150 billion (S$202 billion) programme that would pay electric utilities to increase the amount of electricity they purchase from zero-carbon sources such as wind and solar, and penalise those that do not.

Mr Biden has also sought to unite his Cabinet in finding ways to promote renewable energy and cut the carbon dioxide that is warming the planet under what he has called an "all-of-government" approach to tackling climate.

Experts in renewable energy policy said the Interior Department's move represents a major step.

"This is very big, big deal. This is a signal like we've never had before in the United States about where we can go with offshore wind," said Mr Dan Reicher, who was assistant secretary at the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration and now advises Magellan Wind, a company that develops projects with offshore floating turbines.

"I've been in the wind industry for a long time," he said. "This is a repeat of what we did a couple of decades ago when we stepped up onshore wind, when it went from being a small niche source of energy to being a mainstream, affordable source of power."

Still, there is no guarantee that companies will lease space in the federal waters and build wind farms. Once the offshore areas are identified, they will be subject to lengthy federal, state and local reviews.

If the potential sites could harm endangered species, conflict with military activity, damage underwater archaeological sites or harm local industries such as tourism, the federal government could deem them unsuitable for leasing.

As they have in response to other offshore wind farms, commercial fishing groups and coastal landowners will likely try to stop the projects.

In the Gulf of Mexico, where oil and gas exploration is a major part of the economy, fossil fuel companies could fight the development of wind energy as a threat to not only their local operations but also their entire business model.

"To be making these announcements, and making them in ways that are very political, without looking at what that means, what area, when we still don't know what the effects are going to be of these projects, is really problematic," said Ms Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing groups.

"In an ideal world, when you welcome a new industry, you do it in phases, not all at once."

Interior Department officials said they intend to take such considerations into account.

"We are working to facilitate a pipeline of projects that will establish confidence for the offshore wind industry," said Ms Amanda Lefton, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

"At the same time, we want to reduce potential conflicts as much as we can while meeting the administration's goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030."