The Biden administration announced a goal of installing as much as 15 GW of floating offshore wind energy capacity by 2035, and said it plans to auction off leases to support project development by the end of this year.
The Sept. 15 announcement touted both the potential of offshore wind and its impact on reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector. Administration officials on Thursday said deployment of floating offshore wind would prevent 26 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually—an amount officials said is equivalent to emissions from about 26 coal-fired power plants.
“Floating wind has incredible potential. It can establish the United States as a global leader in advancing new technology, and thus new projects, and it can help us achieve our climate and economic goals,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said at a news conference Thursday. The plan to support floating offshore wind is in addition to the administration’s separate goal of installing at least 30 GW of offshore wind in general by 2030.
“Today we’re launching efforts to seize a new opportunity— floating offshore wind—which will let us build in deep water areas where turbines can’t be secured directly to the sea floor, but where there are strong winds that we can now harness,” White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy said at the news conference. McCarthy said “coordinated actions” by federal and state officials, in concert with the private sector, can position the U.S. “to lead the world on floating offshore wind and bring offshore wind jobs to more parts of our country, including the West Coast.”
The administration said an auction for the rights to build wind turbines in deep water off the coast of California will take place by the end of this year. Officials on Thursday said areas off the coasts of Oregon and the Gulf of Maine also are targets for future development.
The strategy is part of what the departments of Energy, Interior, Commerce, and Transportation jointly call the “Floating Offshore Wind Shot.”
Floating offshore wind projects are usually sited in deeper water, relying on floating platforms to support the turbines. That contrasts with offshore wind projects in shallower waters, where turbines are moored to the sea floor. Most of those turbines are limited to depths of about 60 meters; analysts have said about 60% of U.S. offshore wind resources are in that category.
The U.S. West Coast is better suited to floating offshore wind because the Pacific Ocean drops off steeply and quickly near the coasts of Oregon and California.
The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) said it would provide about $50 million for research, development, and demonstration into offshore wind. DOE officials have said they want to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind technology by more than 70% by 2035, bringing the cost to $45 per megawatt hour. The average cost of fixed-bottom U.S. offshore wind projects was $84/MWh in 2021.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said deployment of floating turbines offshore could provide as much as 2.8 TW of power generation at a future time, which would be more than double the current electricity demand across the U.S. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has said offshore wind resources could potentially provide three times as much electricity as is currently consumed across the country.
Said Granholm: “We think the private sector is going to quickly see the real opportunity here not only to triple the country’s accessible offshore wind resources but to make the U.S. a global leader in manufacturing and deploying offshore wind.”
Haaland said her department has approved the nation’s first two major offshore wind projects in federal waters and has begun reviewing at least 10 more. She said an offshore wind lease sale for projects off the New York and New Jersey coasts set records, and a lease sale also was held in North Carolina. Seven lease sales for offshore wind projects are planned by 2025.
Liz Burdock, president and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said, “The Biden-Harris administration took another critical step towards building a floating offshore wind industry by setting a national deployment goal and announcing an Energy Earthshot to drive down construction costs. Coupled with investments to further analyze transmission and port challenges, and commitments from four federal agencies to work together on these challenges, the Network is confident our nation can become the global leader in floating offshore wind.”
Burdock continued: “Just as the administration’s 30 GW by 2030 goal helped unleash billions in new investments, this new national floating offshore wind target provides long-term regulatory certainty that will drive investments toward American manufacturers, ports, and shipbuilders.”
Announcement a ‘Game-Changer’
“Today’s announcement by the Biden administration to develop 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind by 2035 and set targets for further innovation is a game-changer,” said Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power (ACP) trade group. “These bold actions will create the project pipeline necessary to spark investment in a new domestic supply chain and allow the U.S. to lead in this emerging technology. Paired with the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act, these targets will dramatically reduce costs for offshore wind development, allowing deployment of clean energy at the scale needed to take action to address climate change.”
Energy officials have said more than 500 square miles off the California coast could be available for deployment of offshore wind projects. The area near Morro Bay, off California’s central coast, and Humboldt Bay, in the northern part of the state, are considered two of the best sites. California officials last month set a goal to deploy at least 25 GW of offshore wind power generation capacity by 2045, as part of the state’s larger initiative to have all its electricity come from clean energy resources by that date.
“California and Oregon have some of the best wind resources in the world, and floating offshore wind is crucial to harnessing these resources due to the depth of the ocean floor along the West Coast,” said Zichal. “Innovation in floating wind turbines will make offshore wind more efficient, grow a more robust American supply chain, and bring down the cost of energy for consumers. It will enable offshore wind developers to compete alongside other energy sources at a time when we must use every available clean energy resource to decarbonize our grid and enhance energy security and grid reliability. We applaud this announcement and look forward to working closely with the administration and our members to bring this ambitious plan to life.”
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).