The Biden Administration's announcement last week of a multi-agency initiative to spur development of offshore wind development is gaining quite a bit of attention, and for good reason.
Accompanied by coordinated statements by four cabinet secretaries as well as National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy—and coming on the heels of a January Executive Order to pursue doubling of offshore wind generation by 2030—there is no question that the Biden Administration is making offshore wind development a priority. But one noticeable aspect of the announced policy is how differently the policy is likely to play out on each of the nation's coasts, at least in the short term.
First, to recap the announced policy: the Biden Administration seeks to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind in federal waters by 2030 through a series of coordinated steps within federal agencies, including emphasizing priority development areas off the New York and New Jersey coastlines, advancing the lease and regulatory process for targeted development, promoting federal loan guarantees for offshore wind development, and expanding collaboration and data sharing with private industry.
The View From the East Coast
In the near term, perhaps the most significant advancement reflected in these policies is the expansion by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of the New York Bight Wind Energy Areas, in nearly 800,000 acres of shallow federal waters near the Long Island and New Jersey coasts. In the Northeast, lease areas and landfall sites are suddenly in short supply because of the explosion of offshore wind procurements in the past few years.
In New England, ISO-NE has created its first Cape Cod interconnection cluster study, and it appears that further offshore wind interconnection may require significant (and expensive) transmission upgrades. The Biden Administration's plans to expedite BOEM review of offshore wind projects is also significant for the Northeast, as BOEM's review of the first few projects in the pipeline had represented a serious bottleneck for their siting and permitting.
Also significant is what (if anything) the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will do in the offshore wind area. So far, FERC has allowed the states to drive the procurement process (consistent with the Federal Power Act's grant to states of authority over siting, generation mix, etc.), while FERC regulates connection of offshore wind to the grid in the context of traditional interconnection policies.
However, FERC might decide to update its policies for offshore wind on the grounds that this activity impacts the wholesale markets and transmission system. Stakeholders and FERC have also been discussing carbon pricing for several years: a robust federal carbon pricing regime could substantially change the way the Northeast utilities procure offshore wind, for example, by making customer-funded long-term contracts less attractive as compared to market pricing.
Northeastern states are continuing to increase their offshore wind procurement targets (for example, Massachusetts recently increased its target from 1600 to 4000 MW),1 so such pricing changes could have major impacts on Eastern power markets.
The View From the West Coast
So far, the Biden Administration's publicized efforts have focused on the East Coast—and to some extent the Gulf Coast—leaving some of us on the West Coast to wonder: what about us? We have some thoughts.
West Coast development in offshore wind has undoubtedly lagged so far, for a variety of reasons. One is simply geography: in contrast to the other coasts, the waters across much of the West Coast get deeper faster. Large-scale development in federal waters off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts will therefore likely need to focus on floating offshore wind, raising additional challenges from a developing technology not faced by fixed-platform projects in shallower waters. And any development will undoubtedly require further coordination and input from a variety of different interest groups, including commercial fisheries, environmental organizations and the U.S. Navy.
But interest on the West Coast is certainly strong and gaining momentum. Federally sponsored studies show the wind resource off parts of the coast to be world-class. And the states are taking notice.
Legislators in California and Oregon have both introduced bills to spur offshore wind development off their coasts. California's AB 525 would set a state goal of 10 GW of offshore wind development off the state's coast by 2040, with an interim goal of 3 GW installed by 2030. Oregon's HB 3375 would similarly set a state goal of up to 3 GW of floating offshore wind development by 2030 in federal waters off its coastline. Both bills have been set for hearing or work sessions.
Notably, in the deeply partisan Oregon legislature, the sponsor of the legislative efforts in Oregon is a Republican, Rep. David Brock Smith, who represents rural coastal communities along the southern part of the state. House Bill 3375 is positioned as a means to further both economic development and resiliency and seeks to build upon local community support.
Understandably, many coastal communities and their ports see the potential for development of this industry to play a large role in building local economic opportunities around their maritime economies. California's AB 525 similarly promotes the potential economic and environmental benefits of offshore wind development. And the potential benefits to the region's transmission grid, while certainly needing further study, cannot be discounted, either.
The Biden Administration's newly announced policies should further this West Coast development, even though the headlines are currently focused elsewhere. Indeed, the Oregon legislation assumes as much, giving an explicit nod to the concerted federal efforts to develop offshore wind as a reason to prepare the state for the potential investments that could follow.
1 Mass. St. 2021, c. 8, § 93.