Offshore wind is slowly gaining traction in the US especially on the east coast where state policies and favourable conditions are driving the industry. However, the drastic drop in offshore wind technology costs combined with its potential to address some pressing concerns for the country’s power sector, is expected to create interest in other parts of the country as well. Global Transmission recently organised a virtual conference on Offshore Wind Transmission on September 23-24, 2020 to assess the emerging opportunities and technology options along with constraints and needs offshore wind transmission infrastructure in the US. James F. Bennett, Chief, Office of Renewable Energy Programs, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management elaborated upon the future plans for offshore wind industrial development and the progress that has taken place with regard to projects that have already been awarded in the outer continental shelf (OCS). Given below are the key highlights from his address…

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is responsible for the expeditious and the orderly development of the energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).  This includes all of the Outer Continental islands of the lower 48, the Hawaiian Islands, and those off of Alaska. In 2005, we were given authority to lease for energy sources other than oil and gas, specifically, renewables and wind energy. We have both on the East and West Coast, a recipe for success, and that is built on three fundamental components. The first is the wind resources, most specifically on the East and West Coast, where we have world-class winds. We also have buildable environments, particularly on the East Coast for the conventional technology that we have now, which is bottom founded wind turbines. We have a shallow sloping shelf and we are able to use the developments that have occurred particularly in Europe and around the world over the last couple of decades to develop those areas. On the West Coast, because the shelf drops off so dramatically, we will be using floating technology which might come into play on the East Coast as well. Finally, what is required for successful operation is markets and we have those here, particularly, in the northeast.

Current offshore wind status

We have 16 active leases; every state from Massachusetts to North Carolina and from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras has at least one federal OCS lease for renewable energy. The reason is that things have come together in a very big way over the last several years particularly with state leadership. The most obvious example of state leadership is the six-turbine wind farm off Block Island in state waters of Rhode Island. It is a very successful project and the first offshore wind farm in the USA. The states are really leading the way by announcing their renewable energy goals. They have set very aggressive targets, anywhere from 30-35 per cent up to 100 per cent from Massachusetts down to Virginia. But it is not just goals, they are very specific with regard to what portion of those goals should be pursued for offshore wind. They have identified specific goals like 9 GW for New York, which is tremendous, and 7.5 GW for New Jersey. We have a total call of 28-30 GW for offshore wind supply in the neighbourhood. It is even more than the specific offshore goals, there are offtake solicitations that have either been awarded or scheduled to be awarded and that is already in excess of 12 GW. This is driven, not only by the key factors I mentioned initially but other factors, such as technology and the growth of the wind turbine.

StatesRenewable goals (2030)Offshore wind  goals (MW)Offshore wind: offtake
awarded (MW) + scheduled (MW)
Massachusetts35 %3,2001,600 + 0
Rhode Island100%Unspecified430 + 0
Connecticut48 %2,3001,108 + 0
New York70 %9,0001,826 + 2,500
New Jersey50 %7,5001,100 + 2,400
Maryland50 %2,000368 + 1,200
Virginia30 %5,212 12 + 0 
Total28,612 MW12,544 MW
Offshore wind goals of top states in the Atlantic OCS
Source: Presentation by James F. Bennett, Chief, Office of Renewable Energy Programs, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

Currently, 6 MW machines have been deployed off Virginia, but we are looking at 8 MW and 10 MW machines for some projects in the pipeline. GE has already announced they will be marketing in 2021, a 12 MW machine, and it does not stop there. We do not have a clear identification of any limits that are going to occur. There is research underway to design a prototype for a 50 MW machine using some new technology. This is very important because, among other things, the doubling of the diameter of the swept area results in the quadrupling of the power generated. What that means is a contribution to the lowering of costs along with the developments and the know-how that has been generated in other places across the globe. We are moving from 22 cents per kWh to 12 cents per kWh and all the way down to 6 cents per kWh in 2030. In a couple of cases, we have already committed to that level.

The key economic opportunities offered by offshore wind development include significant employment due to the labour-intensive nature of projects. With these opportunities, several issues and challenges such as transmission, radar issues for civil aviation, protection of wildlife under the endangered species act, visual impacts causing a change in aesthetics, navigation, and commercial and recreational fishing need to be addressed for offshore wind development in the US. Wildlife issues (like those related to impact on whales) are indeed a key part of our environmental analysis and our consultations with other agencies under the endangered species act and the mammal protection act and other legislation. We have visual effect issues; particularly coastal communities are very concerned that the development of wind farms offshore is going to result in a change in aesthetics that will potentially affect coastal recreation and tourism. Navigation of course is key to the development of any offshore area for wind energy. Commercial and recreational fishing is probably the biggest issue that we are facing in the northeast right now with the several projects that are currently underway.

Regulatory features and bidding activity

We have jurisdiction over the area from three miles out of the extent of state jurisdiction to the exclusive economic zone. In order to develop that region for wind energy, we developed a regulatory regime in 2009 that has four stages that include planning and analysis and working with state intergovernmental task forces. We have an intergovernmental state task force with each of the states on the East coast as well as the ones out on the West Coast. We issue a call for information and nominations which is essentially a solicitation of information that we would use to identify areas that should be out there for auction. In order to move forward with that, we have a number of environmental rules on conducting the auction, issuing the lease, and the survey activities that would be associated with that lease leading to its development. The first phase is for two years, but it varies a lot. We have the leasing phase which could be one-two years, where we put a proposed sale notice, and based on the comments received, we specifically identify what area will be put up for auction to a final sale notice including the identification of potential bidders. We conduct the auction and issue the leases to the winner or the winners of the auction process and what that conveys is the right to propose a wind farm. It does not automatically convey the right to develop it and it is subject to a lot of review and modification if needed.

After the issuance of the lease is applied for a year, the developer can pursue site characterisation including surveys of both environmental issues as well as physical constraints on development. This is done in accordance with an approved site assessment plan, for example, the use of a meteorological buoy or a tower. With all of that information over that fixed time period, the developer puts forward, a construction and operations plan. This plan, which itself can take a couple of years to fully develop, review, and approve, is the basis for what the actual wind farm will be. This includes, where the turbine will be located, the gathering lines, and transmission capabilities. It also includes the decommissioning plan at the end of its 25-30 life. The funds are available through the leasing process to ensure that the wind farm is appropriately decommissioned. It takes a long time, maybe 6 to 8 to even 10 years for any project. When you are talking about a billion-dollar undertaking, that is not an unusually long time.

Using that process, particularly since 2013, we have conducted eight competitive lease sales. We have approved 10 site assessment plans and one general activity plan. We have 10 construction and operations plans under review for approval and we anticipate another five in the coming year. There is a lot of activity going on and we expect a lot of issues that we will need to be resolved.  10 guidance documents have been issued, everything from lighting and marking to working with commercial fisheries. We have five areas under consideration for leasing including the Gulf of Maine, New York, North Carolina, the West Coast of Oregon, California, and Hawaii. In addition to our activities with leases and potential leasing areas, there’s a lot of onshore activities that have been developed including port facilities ranging from new Bedford up in Massachusetts to areas down in Chester Peak. We have areas such as the Port of Bridgeport up in Connecticut. Testing facilities have been set up including the Massachusetts Clean Energy Centre, and a turbine testing facility down in South Carolina. Academic programs have been springing up and this only is a sampling of some of them. We also have industrial facilities such as the cable facility in South Carolina and the fabrication facility in the Gulf Island that supports the oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico.

Upcoming projects

All these things are combining in a very positive way for a lot of activity off the Atlantic. We are looking at about 16 projects over the course of the coming decade that will help address some of the demand and the goals that the states have identified specifically for wind energy. In Virginia, construction occurred back in late June. Two 6 MW turbines were constructed, and the staging occurred in Halifax and Hampton roads and we have onshore support. We are about to enter into a testing phase, and we should be commissioning them for operation in the fall of 2020. It’s not just the two turbines, they represent a good start to move into a much larger wind program in Virginia. The other areas we are looking at are the New York Bight because of the level of demand. We have identified wind energy areas and drafted some specific areas for further consideration. We are hoping to have a decision on that soon, to move forward. The Pacific has several areas that they are looking at off California as well as off Hawaii.

StagesNumber of projects
Competitive lease sales completed      8
Active offshore leases issued16
Site assessment plans (SAPs) approved10
General activities plans approved1
Construction and operations plans (COPs):Under reviewAnticipated within the next 12 months 10
Up to 5
Guidance documents issued10
Leasing under consideration5
Status of projects under Renewable Energy Programme
Source: Presentation by James F. Bennett, Chief, Office of Renewable Energy Programs, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)

Back on the East Coast, we conducted an intergovernmental state task force meeting in New Hampshire, because there’s substantial interest in the activities there. We anticipate that this will be floating technology, that is being pursued elsewhere in the world and maybe way off California, and it may come to the East Coast and the Gulf of Maine. There are also areas further offshore that would also be potential areas for floating technology. On the far end, we are planning offshore wind off Oregon and are working with the intergovernmental task force out there and state agencies who are going to be collecting data to identify areas that are appropriate for leasing. We have also identified areas off Hawaii and are working closely with the department of defence to resolve issues on potential conflicts.

The way forward

Transmission is an issue that we are having to deal with in a much bigger way than we anticipated several years ago. We are very much looking forward to working with developers as well as industries to make sure that we come up with the right solutions. There are a couple of different models that we presume. One that is embedded in the regulations right now is generator developed transmission, basically a line from the facility offshore to onshore. There are other models that could be developed such as third-party-developed transmission and transmission company development. These specify the development of a backbone, that these projects could connect to. As part of the lease for the offshore project, we ensure a right of way (ROW) to shore without any further competition for transmission under a ROW grant approach where a company might come forward, with proposals to construct a backbone so that the projects can connect. There may be greater efficiency and effectiveness as a result of that approach if we did indeed examine the ROW grant and analyse it through the NEPA process. We don’t view ourselves as being able to require the use of an unbuilt system so that would be something that the at-risk business proposals would be looking at. However, the state could mandate the use of such a system using their offtake mechanism keeping in mind that, it requires both offtakes and leasing for projects to effectively move forward. We could work with developers if they wanted to pursue the use of a regional transmission system and we do have two applications under review for regional transmission.

Lastly, I would like to compare what has been going on in Europe, particularly off the East Coast of Great Britain, which is roughly about the same length as the area from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. They have got 26 active projects while we have 16 active leases, but we don’t have any production just as yet. Production began in 2004 over there and we are hoping that production will begin in 2020 here in the USA. This could be driven by the smaller project off Virginia. There’s probably around 5 GW in an area off Great Britain and they are looking at anticipated production approaching 30 GW over there based on their experiences over the last couple of decades. While they’d be working towards that over the next decade, we would be working towards 10 or 12 GW. The overall offshore wind picture in the US looks very positive as we move forward with our program here on the East Coast and also out in the Pacific.