The Road to 30 Gigawatts: Key Actions To Scale an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States
In this article
Introduction and summary
This report contains a correction.
In April 2021, the United States set an ambitious climate target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a 100 percent carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035, and a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.1 To reach these lofty climate goals, U.S. leaders should look to the ocean for climate solutions. The ocean is an important part of addressing climate change: It already absorbs 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and captures 90 percent of the additional heat generated from those emissions.2 With climate impacts becoming ever more present, the ocean will serve as a key source of drinking water through desalination and food as supplies become scarcer.3 The ocean will also provide clean, renewable energy, including wave, tidal, floating solar, and—most notably—offshore wind. Stronger and more consistent than onshore wind, offshore wind has huge potential to make up a significant portion of the U.S. clean energy mix.4 In fact, offshore wind could provide more than 2,000 gigawatts (GW) of energy in the United States—two times the present generation of the entire U.S. electric grid.5
Achieving these goals will require federal leadership and decisive action. The Biden administration has taken laudable, early actions to advance offshore wind by setting a national offshore wind goal of 30 GW by 2030 and has begun to address the bottlenecks in leasing and permitting projects made worse during the Trump administration.6 However, a lot more will be required to achieve these goals in a way that creates good, union jobs and long-term economic sustainability; minimizes impacts to a fragile marine environment; and balances other uses of the ocean. Big-picture thinking; strategic leadership; fortitude in coordination across agencies and jurisdictions; and deliberate upfront investments in infrastructure and science are essential to allow the industry to rapidly deploy and scale toward a long-term vision for what Americans want the ocean, the industry, and its economic ecosystem to look like in 20 to 30 years.
Comparatively, Europe’s offshore wind industry is considerably more advanced with three decades of experience putting turbines in the water. As of 2020, Europe had more than 5,400 turbines in the water with an overall generation capacity of more than 25 GW.7 European countries have coordinated across national boundaries to integrate offshore wind into the grid. They have worked together to minimize environmental impacts, begun to standardize interfaces and technologies, and created interconnecting offshore wind clusters.8 They have built the expertise, supply chains, and workforce to support this growing industry. In 2020 alone, more than $31.7 billion of investments were made in new offshore wind assets in Europe.9 In addition, European countries have advanced forward-looking offshore grid concepts such as the North Sea Wind Power Hub.10 While the European offshore wind industry is a couple decades ahead, the United States has the ability to learn from Europe’s successes and mistakes. The Biden administration has an opportunity right now to implement a big-picture, forward-looking vision and intentionally design the large-scale system—that is, an offshore grid, ports, and domestic supply chains—and regional economic hubs that will create tens of thousands of good jobs and minimize environmental impacts. However, the window to take deliberate actions to set the course for how the industry will scale is quickly closing.
The Biden administration has an opportunity right now to implement a big-picture, forward-looking vision and intentionally design the large-scale system and regional economic hubs that will create tens of thousands of good jobs and minimize environmental impacts.
The current state of offshore wind in the United States
The offshore wind industry in the United States crawled forward for more than a decade, slowed by litigation, protracted permitting, complex and novel regulatory frameworks, stakeholder opposition, and unfavorable energy markets. As of 2021, there were only two operational offshore wind projects in U.S. waters with a total of seven turbines. The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island became operational in 2016 with five turbines11 that generate approximately 30 megawatts (MW).12 A second project, the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project—a 12 MW wind farm off the coast of Virginia—became operational in June 2020 and consists of only two turbines in federal waters. Although there are currently only seven turbines in U.S. waters, there are around 20 proposed offshore wind projects in various stages of development with a projected pipeline of 30 GW in federal lease areas issued to date.13 Projects take approximately four to eight years from the sale of lease to an operational farm, but many have taken longer, and some—such as the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts—never make it past concept. Yet, in November 2021, Vineyard Wind, the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the United States, began construction off the coast of Massachusetts—a positive indicator that the atmosphere has changed.14 In fact, developers currently anticipate approximately 9 GW to be operational by 2026.15
The regulatory framework for offshore wind in the United States is governed by federal, state, and local governments. At the federal level, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for offshore wind development, including lease sales, easements, rights of way in federal waters, and coordinated permitting activity.16 The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is responsible for offshore wind safety, environmental enforcement, and compliance functions. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for interstate wholesale sales of electricity and for electric transmission.17 Various other agencies have authority with respect to different permitting aspects of projects.18 For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit impacts on certain protected species under various statutes, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits obstructions to navigation and all permits for projects in the Great Lakes under the Rivers and Harbors Act.19 At the state level, state governments oversee generation, distribution, retail sales, public utility commission approvals, and energy solicitations. They are also instrumental in the regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) that operate electric grids in much of the country. The states also have a regulatory role under the Coastal Zone Management Act to ensure projects are consistent with state coastal zone management programs and regulations.20 Local governments and local laws have a role in siting and establishing interconnections to the onshore grid. Generating capacity of offshore wind targets among eight East Coast states
Generating capacity of offshore wind targets among eight East Coast states
Until 2021, the offshore wind industry in the United States has largely been driven by state renewable energy goals and offshore wind targets. Eight East Coast states alone have set targets totaling 37 GW. These targets, along with state policies and procurements, have helped to dictate the timing and ability for the industry to grow by providing some market predictability.
States have also been leading the way to create long-term economic opportunities from the offshore wind industry. This has come in the form of job creation, manufacturing, port development, and infrastructure investments. Through requirements and incentives in state procurements of offshore wind and general economic incentives, states have been able to attract further economic investments from the industry. For example, New Jersey established the New Jersey Wind Port on the eastern shore of the Delaware River, the first facility purposefully built for staging, assembly, and manufacturing activities related to offshore wind projects.21 In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) launched a new public-private partnership to upgrade the Port of New London to support the ships and cargo necessary to construct offshore wind installations.22 In Massachusetts, a group of investors has converted the former site of a coal-fired plant into a hub that will “provide manufacturing, logistics, and transmission in support of offshore wind facilities.”23 And in New York, an $86 million supply chain contract to construct components for wind turbines at the Port of Coeymans spurred the state to offer significant port infrastructure and supply chain investment in its next offshore wind solicitation in early 2022, an effort to further maximize long-term economic benefits.24
In addition, states are working together to create regional economic hubs. Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina formed the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources to foster a more favorable investment environment.25 The partnership will enhance interstate coordination; clarify, streamline and align state requirements; and facilitate sharing of best practices to reduce administrative burdens on project developers as well as reduce project costs.26 State and interstate leadership has sparked investment by the private sector. Already, Dominion Energy has agreed to lease 72 acres of the Portsmouth Marine Terminal in Virginia for staging and to serve as a preassembly area for the foundations and turbines, and Siemens Gamesa, a wind engineering company, recently announced plans to invest $200 million at the terminal to establish the first offshore wind turbine blade facility in the United States.27 This is an initial step in developing the terminal into an offshore wind hub and a strong indication that global manufacturers are investing in establishing U.S.-based supply chains.
In 2021 and 2022, the United States witnessed renewed leadership and funding at the federal level. The Biden administration has taken notable steps to advance offshore wind. In March 2021, the Biden administration set the first national goal for offshore wind with a target of 30 GW by 2030.28 It also brought together multiple agencies, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus resources on this top priority.29 The first major lease sale under this goal in the New York Bight took place in February 2022 and generated a record $4.37 billion in winning bids.30 As part of this renewed focus, the administration announced $230 million for port and intermodal infrastructure-related projects through the DOT’s Port Infrastructure Development Program, and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 will provide an additional $450 million annually through 2036 to support the offshore wind industry.31 The administration also announced access to $3 billion in debt capital through the DOE Loan Program Office to support offshore wind transmission developers, suppliers, and other financing partners to scale the industry in the United States. The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) identified the blue economy as an area of interest in its $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge as part of the American Rescue Plan.32 Further, NOAA’s Northeast Sea Grant program made $1 million in grant funding available for community-based research in the Northeast. This investment will increase understanding of the effects of offshore renewable energy on the ocean and local communities and economies as well as opportunities to optimize ocean co-use. On the regulatory side, the administration has prioritized streamlining the various permitting processes for offshore wind through the Federal Permitting Improvement and Steering Council.33
Offshore wind activity
As of today, there is offshore wind activity on all U.S. coasts. The East Coast has seen the most commercial activity by far, accounting for the two operational projects and all lease sales to date. Several additional projects are nearing the construction phase. The Vineyard Wind project—an 800 MW project consisting of up to 84 turbines located approximately 12 nautical miles offshore of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and 12 nautical miles offshore of Nantucket—received approval of its construction and operation plan (COP) in May 2021 and began construction in November 2021.34 In addition, the 132 MW South Fork project located 35 miles east of Montauk Point, New York, received approval of its COP in November 2021. BOEM is currently reviewing an additional eight COPs and intends to complete at least 15 by 2025.35 This includes four projects off the New Jersey coast, including one of the largest to date, a 1510 MW project by developer Atlantic Shores and two projects by developer Ørsted contributing more than 2200 MW; the first floating offshore wind project off of the Maine coast; and several off the coast of Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
On the West Coast, three wind energy areas have been identified off California’s coast with at least seven companies interested in developing floating offshore wind in the area.36 In Washington state, the Quinault Indian Nation has partnered with Greys Harbor Wind LLC to explore the potential of a 75-turbine project in their adjudicated usual and accustomed fishing areas.37 Additionally, the Gulf Coast states38 and Oregon have formed intergovernmental task forces39 to explore offshore wind, and Hawaii has potential areas off its coast under consideration for development. In October, the Biden administration announced additional offshore wind lease sales by 2025, attempting to create a pipeline of projects and some certainty for the industry.40 In February 2022, BOEM held the first lease sale of the Biden administration, auctioning more than 480,000 acres in the New York Bight, which generated a record $4.37 billion in winning bids.41 Additionally, new lease sales are expected to occur in the Carolinas and California in mid-2022.42 Lease sales in the Gulf of Maine, Central Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and off the Oregon coast are also anticipated.43
Challenges still ahead
While the Biden administration has given the industry some much-needed momentum, several barriers and challenges still exist. Two of the most significant by far are stakeholder opposition and lack of adequate transmission infrastructure. Additional challenges due to limited science, a nascent domestic supply chain, significant workforce needs, and technological limitations also exist. Furthermore, several issues have been exacerbated by project-by-project thinking. Stakeholder engagement, user conflicts, effects on the environment, and transmission have all been hampered by attempting to address these issues on a project-specific basis without accounting for the big picture.
OSCLA and offshore wind
The primary statute governing offshore wind siting in federal waters, the Outer Continental Submerged Lands Act (OSCLA), was not designed with offshore wind in mind and in turn has significant gaps and room for discretionary decisions by the DOI. This has caused uncertainty in interpretation as policy agendas shift between administrations. For example, OSCLA provides minimal guidance on balancing ocean uses, allowing an administration to favor some ocean users over others. In one case, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior issued a legal opinion, later reversed by the Biden administration, that required offshore wind to avoid any conflict with fisheries.44 OSCLA also requires BOEM to create and maintain plans—colloquially called five-year plans—for future oil and gas lease sales but has no similar requirement for offshore wind lease sales.45
Offshore wind projects in the United States have faced strong opposition from some stakeholder groups, mainly from commercial fishermen and coastal landowners. Concerns over economic impacts on their businesses and negative environmental impacts on fisheries have resulted in strong objections from commercial fishermen. In addition, coastal landowners have voiced concerns about visual impacts and property prices. Other stakeholders have raised concerns about navigation, effects on tourism, military operations, and endangered species such as the North Atlantic right whale and its critical habitat.46
Opposition can become so substantial that it stalls projects for years or stops them altogether. In 2017, the Cape Wind project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard was ultimately abandoned after it generated a combined 32 court cases and administrative hearings over the course of a protracted regulatory process.47 More recently, in Massachusetts, several lawsuits have been filed against the Vineyard Wind project, including by fishermen and landowners. Commercial fishermen have argued that the project will have potential adverse effects on fish stocks and result in harmful economic impacts on nearby communities.48 Coastal landowners have also filed suit against the project, claiming concern for its adverse impacts on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.49 In New York, several wealthy landowners in the Hamptons have expressed opposition to the South Fork Wind Farm due to the installation of approximately 4 miles of buried transmission cables on shore.50 Some of these issues can be addressed with upfront coordinated planning and modification of sites or turbine spacing, but they ultimately underscore the importance of addressing these issues to the greatest extent possible when identifying wind energy areas and finding solutions to mitigate adverse impacts on other uses.51
The second major challenge for the offshore wind industry is transmission. Transmission is the process by which electricity is transported from a generating site, such as an offshore wind farm, to consumers. Offshore wind will require transmission upgrades, new transmission infrastructure, and energy storage investments. Early projects have identified cost-effective points of interconnection to the onshore grid, but this additional existing capacity is finite. Grid architecture, transmission congestion, and the additional power and resulting effects on system reliability will all need to be addressed. As of October 2020, more than 52 GW of proposed offshore wind interconnection requests were in the queues for the PJM Interconnection, New York Independent System Operator (ISO), and ISO New England.52 Existing infrastructure cannot support this amount of energy coming onshore, although planned retirements of power plants on land will help accommodate some of the offshore wind energy supply.53
In addition, offshore wind transmission has been addressed on a project-by-project basis. Currently, offshore wind developers in the United States use a “generator lead line” or “radial transmission” approach in which they build individual transmission lines themselves, connecting wind farms one by one to the onshore high-voltage network. This approach is driven mainly by state solicitations that bundle generation and transmission. This project-by-project approach is also driven in part by BOEM’s regulations, which allow radial lines to be included with each lease and the need for early projects to establish certainty by controlling its own grid interconnection.54
However, individual transmission lines are shortsighted, particularly as the offshore wind industry grows. Additionally, an uncontrolled proliferation of undersea cables could lead to significant and unnecessary environmental impacts.55 Instead, the United States must act now to plan and build a well-designed offshore transmission system.
A planned mesh network minimizes costs, maximizes offshore wind potential by reducing congestion of multiple lines, maximizes carbon reduction potential, and reduces environmental impacts and conflicts with other offshore interests such as commercial fishing.
Experts have acknowledged that a “planned mesh network” model is superior to the current generator lead line approach.56 There are several designs for planned mesh network models such as a high-capacity transmission backbone or a hub-and-spoke model in which several wind turbines are connected by a single high-capacity cable.57 Regardless of which model is used, a planned mesh network minimizes costs, maximizes offshore wind potential by reducing congestion of multiple lines, maximizes carbon reduction potential, and reduces environmental impacts and conflicts with other offshore interests such as commercial fishing.58 According to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, this type of approach can bring project costs down “by as much as 10 to 18 percent.”59
At the same time, coordinated federal leadership and a federal regulatory framework to address transmission issues has been lacking. While the DOE launched a two-year study on Atlantic offshore wind transmission,60 and FERC held a technical workshop to begin discussing offshore wind transmission61 and solicited input within the past year, there is currently no plan for an offshore grid and little action to integrate and coordinate across regions and think more comprehensively. In June 2021, FERC announced the creation of a joint task force with state regulators to address obstacles to building transmission infrastructure, but its mandate is very broad, and it is yet to be seen whether it will prioritize comprehensive planning to address offshore needs.62 FERC has also initiated a new rule to consider reforms to regional transmission planning, cost allocation, and generator interconnection processes that could result in more proactive planning of transmission and less cost burden on individual generators, but the timeline for final action is not known.63
In the absence of federal leadership, some states have stepped in to fill the void. New Jersey took a new approach to proactively develop transmission to integrate 7,500 MW of offshore wind and at the same time ensure that as few transmission lines as possible would need to come onshore.64 New Jersey worked with PJM, the regional grid operator, to solicit transmission proposals on behalf of the state to upgrade onshore transmission facilities and build new offshore transmission infrastructure. The state has also explored working with New York on transmission but has been hindered by issues around cost allocation.65 New York is also actively evaluating its future transmission needs to meet the state’s 100 percent clean electricity mandates, including integration of offshore wind.66 While state planning has been necessary due to a lack of federal leadership during the Trump administration, federal leadership is imperative. Absent any planning, there will not be enough interconnection points to meet the Biden administration’s 30 GW goal.67
Competing ocean uses
Offshore areas can contain fragile marine ecosystems and serve as a home to a plethora of ocean uses. Balancing environmental needs and competing ocean uses can be challenging, but with thoughtful, upfront planning, conflicts with offshore wind can be minimized. Furthermore, coalescing ocean priorities upfront could lead to a well-planned ocean future that protects the most fragile and important parts of the ecosystem, recognizes the most important fishing grounds, allows for a multitude of uses, and provides renewable energy. Evidence from Europe68 and from the Block Island Wind Farm69 shows that engaging ocean stakeholders—and particularly fishermen and the local workforce—from the outset of developing an offshore wind installation can benefit overall planning. However, engagement of stakeholders thus far is mainly happening on a project-by-project and developer-by-developer basis. While this type of engagement is important, a more strategic, big-picture approach is needed to plan at regional and national scales.
Coalescing ocean priorities upfront could lead to a well-planned ocean future that protects the most fragile and important parts of the ecosystem, recognizes the most important fishing grounds, allows for a multitude of uses, and provides renewable energy.
Although some user conflicts can be addressed with upfront planning, others—such as commercial fishing—cannot be entirely alleviated and may require other types of mitigation. Some developers have designed the spacing and arrangement of turbines to help facilitate continued fishing and safe transit in the wind farm area, but co-location of activities will not work in every instance.70 However, in some cases, there may be quantifiable impacts on the fishery or specific business, particularly during the construction period. To date, compensatory mitigation packages—support funds put together by offshore wind developers and states to offset any losses fishermen may experience as the result of a project—are negotiated on a project-by-project, state-by-state basis. Yet, many commercial fishermen operate in waters up and down the U.S. coastline and expect a consistent mitigation formula regardless of home port. This creates considerable burdens on fishermen, particularly small, family-owned operations that may not have the resources to give feedback on multiple projects at once.71As the industry scales, it will be increasingly important to balance competing uses of ocean space and develop additional and more standardized mechanisms to support commercial and recreational fishermen. At the end of 2021, BOEM began to collect data through regional workshops and a formal request for information on how to reduce or avoid the impacts of offshore wind on fisheries.72
A nascent supply chain and domestic workforce needs
The U.S. offshore wind industry has significant potential to drive economic development and job creation. Presently, many of the components (such as turbines, foundations, and cables) for commercial-scale offshore wind projects are built overseas and imported into the United States due to a lack of domestic manufacturing investment. But there are now a sufficient number of U.S. projects in the pipeline to create a robust domestic supply chain. A recent study found that offshore wind in the United States will be worth $109 billion to businesses in its supply chain over the next 10 years.73 According to the DOE, the proposed wind projects on the Atlantic Coast alone are estimated to support up to 86,000 jobs, $57 billion in investments, and provide up to $25 billion in economic output by 2030.74 Another study showed that one lease sale off California’s coast could support 38,100 jobs per year, $3.5 billion in annual wages, and $44.2 billion in total capital investment.75 Nationally, the American Clean Power Association estimates that construction of BOEM’s planned offshore wind lease sales through 2025 could support 128,000 jobs during construction and generate up to $4.5 billion in new federal revenue over the coming decades.76
The proposed wind projects on the Atlantic Coast alone are estimated to support up to 86,000 jobs, $57 billion in investments, and provide up to $25 billion in economic output by 2030.
However, the potential for economic growth is not just a projection, and supply chain spending is already happening. For example, Ørsted recently signed an $86 million supply chain contract with Riggs Distler & Company, Inc. to build foundation components for wind turbines in New York.77 Developing supply chains in a smart way that facilitates widespread economic growth will be important. New supply chains supporting the industry will not only contribute to coastal states’ economies but have the ability to create growth further inland. For example, Dominion Energy invested $500 million in a purposely built wind turbine installation vessel.78 The vessel is being built at a shipyard in Texas with steel from West Virginia, North Carolina, and Alabama, and it will be homeported in Virginia.79 Additionally, in August, U.S. Wind announced its plans to invest an initial $77 million for a new offshore wind deployment hub in Maryland where turbine components would be assembled.80 It also announced its intentions to bring steel production back to Baltimore by starting a company called Sparrows Point Steel at the former Bethlehem Steel site that would support its offshore wind projects.81 When in full production, the new steel mill would support more than 500 local, permanent jobs; generate more than $1 billion in labor income over 20 years; and increase Maryland’s gross domestic product by $6.9 billion over 20 years.82 In yet another example, Ocean Wind and steel pipe manufacturer EEW began construction on a $250 million manufacturing facility at the Port of Paulsboro Marine Terminal in New Jersey that will also create approximately 260 jobs during initial construction and manufacturing. As the Biden administration begins to implement new programs and ambitions, the development of a nationwide domestically sourced offshore wind supply chain must be at the core of federal investments.
Limited baseline science
Since the industry is still nascent, there is limited baseline science available on the impact of wind operations on the ecosystem as well as specific species in U.S. waters. In fact, the question of how offshore wind installations affect fisheries and ocean ecosystems is such a hot topic that the Oceanography Society recently dedicated an entire special issue of their magazine to understanding it.83 Understanding both the local and cumulative impacts on the marine environment and wildlife will be ever more important as the industry scales, and this increases the need to monitor areas within and near wind project sites before, during, and after development. Although much remains unknown, initial data have been collected from the few turbines currently in the water, and studies are underway for various proposed offshore wind projects to incorporate nature-based designs for enhancing the ecological function of wind farms.84 Existing science and data from European offshore wind farms and from other marine industries in the United States—such as offshore wind developers and oil and gas operations—can also help to inform decision-making and should be shared broadly while needed research is conducted. Other earlier mechanisms to gather and coordinate science and data have been established, including the Regional Wildlife Science Entity in the Northeast that supports regional planning, research, and monitoring for wildlife and offshore wind energy.85
Complex regulatory framework
The U.S. regulatory framework is complex and challenging, and regulators must navigate local, state, and federal jurisdictions. On the federal side alone, there are 26 agencies with authority over different aspects of ocean waters and resources.86 At the same time, states control coastal waters out to 3 nautical miles.87 Coordination across sectors and agencies is important to minimize delays for project development.
Offshore wind technology is evolving globally as the industry scales in several regions of the world. Turbine size and capacity have rapidly grown, and wind farms are being built in deeper waters. To enable a thriving industry into the future that coexists with a healthy marine environment and addresses the climate crisis, technological advances will be essential. The majority of the nation’s offshore wind resources—approximately 60 percent—are in deep waters where conventional fixed-bottom foundations are not practical. Installing offshore wind at a significant scale will require floating turbines, which necessitate technology advancements related to substructure optimization, logistics, maintenance, and repairs. While bigger turbines allow for improved cost efficiencies, they will also create new supply chain issues and opportunities because factories and vessels will have to be appropriately scaled up to manufacture, install, and maintain these larger models. Advancements in transmission such as high-voltage direct current converters and storage technology will allow energy to be relayed to shore with less loss of power and harnessed to be used at a future time. New technologies will also be needed to address the waste problem that is quickly building from decommissioned wind turbines. Large quantities of materials and components will go to landfills after the wind turbines in which they are used reach the end of their design lifetimes.88 New technologies in material and manufacturing design will allow these structures to have a future life in the circular economy.
Installing offshore wind at a significant scale will require floating turbines, which necessitate technology advancements related to substructure optimization, logistics, maintenance, and repairs.
Most of the aforementioned challenges can be minimized or mitigated, but intentional and forward-thinking action is needed.
Recommendations for the road to 30 GW and beyond
With less than three years remaining in the Biden administration’s first term and the offshore wind industry in an early growth stage, there is still an opportunity to establish the U.S. wind industry in a strategic way. However, the time is now—and it is crucial for the administration to move with deliberate speed and forethought.
Establish business certainty where possible
Endeavoring to invest and build offshore wind farms in the United States requires an interconnected series of predictions about energy market prices, capital and operational costs, and timing of permitting processes, among other variables. Unlike other forms of energy, such as oil and gas, offshore wind cannot be stored for a time when energy prices are more favorable or shipped and sold into the global market. To date, states and utilities have used two procurement instruments—offshore wind renewable energy certificates and power purchase agreements—to provide a high degree of financial certainty against otherwise fluctuating prices for delivered services. These instruments allow the generator to receive “a fixed price for services delivered, regardless of the price that the generation sells for in the wholesale market.”89 This certainty is often needed for securing long-term project financing.90 Finding additional ways to create a more predictable business environment is important to build industry confidence and support supply chain development.
The Biden administration has already taken a major step to create certainty for businesses by approving plans for proposed projects and signaling that they will lease seven new offshore wind areas within the next four years. To provide more clarity, the administration should continue lease sales beyond those currently scheduled through 2025 and issue regulations mandating BOEM to meet annual minimum leasing targets.91 It has also provided additional regulatory certainty and more transparency on the timing of various permits for specific projects through the Federal Permitting Improvement and Steering Council and should continue to prioritize offshore wind projects through the council process. In addition, spatial and infrastructure planning discussed below can create additional predictability. The administration should prioritize hiring to maintain permitting timelines and take steps to provide useable spatial and infrastructure plans. Both NOAA and BOEM need resources to hire, detail, or contract additional qualified personnel to maintain the ambitious project timelines needed to meet the 30 GW goal. Moreover, the U.S. Department of the Treasury should release and promote clear guidance on the investment tax credit and production tax credit for renewable energy projects.
At the state level, New Jersey has released a clear offshore wind procurement timeline for its 7,500 MW target.92 This steady, transparent schedule of procurements is responsive to industry needs and is part of the state’s commitment to creating the conditions necessary for supply chain localization. The Biden administration should encourage this, and other states should look at producing similar procurement schedules to further create favorable conditions. For example, the administration could incentivize states to produce this type of schedule through conditions in grants such as an EDA grant awarded to a state to help with state planning for offshore wind.
Address user conflicts upfront
States and the federal government should develop standardized, meaningful consultation processes between fishermen, local unions, offshore wind developers, conservation advocates, scientists, the maritime shipping industry, ratepayers, and other stakeholders that commence before a project is announced and continue through every stage of development, construction, and operation. One option for facilitating such engagement in a consistent way would be for the Biden administration to continue and increase funding for the regional ocean partnerships (ROPs), existing federal-state partnership organizations working to advance marine planning and help balance multiple ocean uses.93 These entities received additional funds in the IIJA, which will help to facilitate upfront stakeholder engagement.94 Additionally, the ROPs maintain regional ocean data portals, which are fairly comprehensive databases that allow managers to look at spatial and temporal existing uses. This information includes fishing, wildlife, habitat, marine transportation, current and potential wind energy areas, military uses, and other conditions that can inform siting and address stakeholder conflicts upfront. The data portals have been particularly useful in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions and could be expanded in other regions.95
The administration should also establish BOEM/BSEE field offices in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic just as exist in oil- and gas-producing regions such as the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.96 Field offices could improve engagement by acting as resource centers for states and stakeholders, improving regional interagency engagement and coordination, sharing best practices between projects, facilitating information-sharing sessions, doing outreach and education, and helping to manage the siting and environmental review processes. Modest additional appropriations from Congress would be sufficient to support these new field offices.
Immediately create an offshore transmission master plan
A more integrated approach to offshore transmission is needed to strategically scale the offshore wind industry. The United States should continue to invest in building a well-designed offshore transmission system. The DOE has taken an initial step by launching a two-year study on transmission options to support offshore wind development on the U.S. East Coast.97 However, FERC—in coordination with the White House, DOE, BOEM, other relevant federal agencies, states, and the RTOs/ISOs—should immediately develop a cohesive, strategic offshore wind transmission master plan for the Atlantic coast or regional master plans. To jump-start this effort, the White House should convene the relevant partners. The plan would be the first of its kind in U.S. waters and would help to remove barriers to entry, improve coordination, lower costs, and account for projected growth of the industry. The plan should be developed within the next year, consider phased implementation, and account for the projected growth of the offshore wind industry as well as address additional transmission needs of future larger, floating turbines in deeper waters.98 Provisions and funding for transmission facilitation and deployment in the recently enacted IIJA could potentially support and boost such an effort.99
FERC should establish a subcommittee under its joint task force100 to specifically address offshore wind transmission and create an offshore transition master plan or regional plans. A representative from the Executive Office of the President should be a member of this task force subcommittee along with other relevant federal agencies through a memorandum of understanding with FERC. Information from the regional data portals should inform the plan. In addition to developing a master plan, Congress and FERC should also make incentives available for the development of transmission. Some early indications suggest that FERC is moving in this direction, but the time is now to move forward so that the industry scales with well-planned transmission instead of many radial lines from individual projects.
Support regional economic hubs and build a domestic supply chain
The U.S. offshore wind industry has significant potential to drive economic development and job creation. To maximize this opportunity, the White House should direct the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Commerce to create and implement a five-year plan within the next six months to expand domestic supply chains, manufacturing capability, and a skilled workforce. The Department of Commerce and the DOE should also invest in a supply chain mapping. For example, the Biden administration should expand capacity within the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Centers to directly support states and manufacturers as they navigate the existing and future supply chain. Additionally, the administration, through the EDA grants, should invest in helping states establish regional economic hubs for offshore wind power by focusing grants on long-term economic development plans.
Train the workforce of the future
Offshore wind projects rely on skilled labor and advanced manufacturing for construction, installation, operations, and maintenance. The Biden administration should invest in workforce training, registered apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeship programs, and advanced manufacturing to increase the capability and capacity of the domestic workforce for offshore wind. The administration should immediately deploy existing resources and programs at the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Transportation, Energy, and Education to help address labor gaps and support development of supply chains. For example, the National Institute for Standards and Technology through the MEP Centers could help to build a skilled workforce for manufacturing. The DOL can support workforce development and potentially create a nationally recognized specialized certification for specific types of offshore wind jobs similar to the framework developed for wind turbine technicians broadly.101 They should also further incentivize additional investments in training a domestic workforce through key workforce provisions—such as project labor agreements, utilization of registered apprentices, and labor peace agreements—when awarding lease areas. They should also work with the states to share best practices of including workforce training incentives in state solicitations.
Incentivize direction through BOEM lease stipulations
The capital costs to enter the U.S. offshore wind market are steep, and leases have traditionally gone to the highest bidder. To date, lease sales have brought nearly $5 billion to the Department of the Treasury with a record of $4.37 billion in February 2022 for six parcels.102 However, this does not incentivize companies to account for investing in supply chains, local workforce, innovative environmental protections, or environmental justice. State demands have driven these investments for existing projects. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act provides BOEM the ability to use a multiple-factor auction format,103 which allows a lease to be awarded not just to the highest bidder but could account for other factors that would be in the public interest. BOEM is in the process of soliciting feedback on this format for upcoming lease auctions and has begun to implement it with its recent proposed sale notice for an area off the coast of North Carolina.104 Specifically, BOEM has included consideration of both a monetary bid and bidding credits for contributions to workforce training or development of the U.S. domestic supply chain.105 It is also considering mechanisms to provide benefits to underserved communities, lessee reporting requirements on efforts to minimize conflicts with other ocean users, and mechanisms for project labor agreements.106 The administration should utilize this multiple-factor auction format going forward as it provides a great instrument for setting the direction of the industry, particularly for supporting high-quality job creation and domestic supply chain development. The administration should also consider prioritizing local ocean conservation efforts and restoration work. However, it should be cautious about putting the onus for coordination and engagement with other ocean users on developers, as weighing tradeoffs in the public interest should remain an inherently government function. The federal government should provide leadership by taking an active role to balance uses and set the direction for what Americans want the future state of oceans to look like.
Strengthen strategic leadership
The Biden administration has taken an interagency approach with some coordination happening through the Executive Office of the President and with BOEM handling a large portion of the day-to-day regulatory efforts. While this has driven some of the permitting processes forward, it does not account for the big picture that spans the administration’s economic, climate, and infrastructure priorities nor does it provide the leadership capacity necessary to drive the multifaceted actions and coordination needed day to day. The White House should strengthen leadership for offshore wind by establishing additional capacity in the Executive Office of the President to drive interagency and intergovernmental coordination, expedite offshore wind deployment, and enable the ability to scale offshore wind.
Fund science and data collection
Decisions about designing and siting offshore wind installations should be based on the best available science—both in terms of offshore wind potential and in terms of minimizing impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries and ecosystems more broadly. In addition, understanding cumulative impacts of the industry on species and the marine environment is critical. The Biden administration should request additional resources for baseline data collection, NOAA fish surveys, and cumulative impact studies to be done for key species or in key regions to help safeguard the environment. And it should expedite the review process for wind projects in those areas. For example, increased funding for baseline data collection could provide resources to improve detection and monitoring of threatened and endangered marine mammals through passive buoys and float surveys and support the transition to a modernized fisheries survey model. The federal government should also strengthen data-sharing requirements in lease agreements with developers, including oil and gas as well as renewables.107
Congress Must Invest in Clean Energy
The Biden administration should support congressional efforts to require and fund the purchase of automatic identification system (AIS) computers for U.S.-based fishing vessels. These systems use satellites to monitor and transmit a boat’s location and are considered the best available tool to track fishing efforts in order to manage shared use of the ocean without creating burdensome new reporting requirements for fishermen. AIS data could then be used to help plan and site wind farms in areas that will not interfere with fishing activities, including transit corridors. This idea has bipartisan support in Congress. For example, the recently introduced Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act requires fishing vessels of more than 65 feet to have AIS systems and authorizes funding for their purchase.108 In the near term, these measures could be funded through regular appropriations. In the long term, Congress could consider directing a portion of revenues from offshore wind lease sales and royalties to fund science related to offshore wind and fisheries. Should Congress fail to act, the Biden administration should use its authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Act to require AIS.109
Provide federal support for commercial fishermen
While compensation packages for fishermen should continue to reflect both the specific impacts of each offshore wind installation and cumulative impacts of the growing wind industry, the federal government can do more to both standardize the process from project to project and to support fishermen as the offshore wind industry develops. Oil and gas companies operating offshore are required to pay into the Fishermen’s Contingency Fund (FCF), which provides compensation to fishermen for economic and property losses caused by oil and gas development and extraction.110 The administration should support the expansion of the FCF to also cover impacts due to offshore wind installations and operations. It should also use bidding and operating fee credits to provide funding until Congress can provide legislation to require offshore wind companies to pay modest assessments into the fund just as oil and gas companies do. In the medium term, the federal government may want to assess a standard fee on offshore wind developers or direct a portion of offshore wind lease sales and revenues to subsidize direct payments to fishermen and contribute to the costs of the additional fisheries science needed. In addition, some fishermen have expressed concerns about navigation, insurance, liability, and the potential for their gear to be lost or damaged due to interactions with turbines or undersea cables.111 NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Department of the Treasury should study options for subsidizing fishermen’s insurance and leverage existing fishers’ safety training to enable continued fishing within offshore wind installations where possible. NOAA and BOEM should also prioritize studying interactions between fishing, marine ecosystems, and floating turbines.
Make transformational investments in technology
The Biden administration should deploy the DOE, the Department of Defense, and other relevant agency programs to invest in new technologies to address the unique challenges of floating wind turbines and future needs of the industry of tomorrow. While some funding has been awarded through DOE grants and through initiatives such as the National Offshore Wind Research Consortium,112 transformational investments are needed now to rapidly deploy floating technologies and utilize deeper waters in the U.S. exclusive economic zone in the near term. Additionally, innovation in recycling technologies, new materials, and extended useful life in wind turbine design is needed to ensure that deployment of offshore wind does not create an inadvertent waste problem. With a wind turbine’s average lifespan of about 20 to 25 years, investing in circular economy strategies now is key. The DOE should increase grant opportunities for innovation to address waste issues so that they are not a bigger problem down the road. Investments in renewable, accessible, zero-emission vessel fuels will also be important for the long-term sustainability of offshore wind.
The United States has an opportunity right now to set up an offshore wind industry that not only brings the nation closer to its ambitious climate goals but creates good, union jobs and bolsters the economy. Yet policymakers must think long-term and big picture. To ensure it is scaling the industry in a smart way, the Biden administration should take additional near-term steps to advance policies and deploy resources that will allow strategic growth of offshore wind while ensuring the ocean and its resources are healthy and thriving for years to come. It should actively set the direction for supply chain and workforce growth and implement a forward-looking transmission plan. With large investments already being made—and due to the long lead time for projects—there is no time to waste.
Teresa R. Christopher is a consultant and an expert in environmental, energy, and ocean issues who formerly served as a White House ocean policy adviser. At the time of drafting, she was a consultant for the Center for American Progress.
Kristina Costa contributed to an initial draft of this paper. The authors would like to thank their Center for American Progress colleagues Kelly Kryc, Christian Rodriguez, Chester Hawkins, Meghan K. Miller, and Jarvis Holliday; Amy Kenney, executive director of the National Ocean Protection Coalition; Amy Trice, director of Ocean Planning at Ocean Conservancy; Rennie Meyers, Federal Affairs Manager, and other members of Ørsted North America’s Government Affairs and Permitting teams; and Jean Flemma, director of the Ocean Defense Initiative for providing thoughtful feedback that improved this report.
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