US offshore wind stakeholders are ready for a comeback in 2024 after suffering a series of blows last year.

US Offshore Wind Industry Readies Self For Another Round

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The US has struggled to flex its offshore wind muscles for more than 20 years, despite having thousands of miles of coastlines at hand on two oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes. As recently as last year the industry seemed heading for another brick wall, much to the joy of fossil energy stakeholders and their political allies. Well, they better put the champagne back on ice, because 2024 is shaping up to be a breakthrough year for wind.

Whatever Happened To The First Offshore Wind Farm In The US?

At the dawn of the 21st century, the US was gearing up to lead the world into a future powered by offshore wind turbines. In 2001, a group called the Cape Wind Associates formally proposed putting 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, each with a capacity of 3.6 megawatts. That’s small potatoes compared to the massive double-digit wind turbines of today, but still impressive for its time.

Among other opposition, the project attracted powerful foes including a current candidate for president (this one) and one of the Koch brothers (this brother) of the Koch Industries family. By 2017, Cape Wind Associates gave up the ghost and relinquished its lease on the offshore area. The only project to get underway during that period was a modest 5-turbine array at Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, which began construction in 2015.

Offshore activity has been progressing by fits and starts since then, though 2023 was marked by several setbacks including the withdrawal of offshore projects in New York and New Jersey, and a disappointing lease auction for offshore wind areas in the Gulf of Mexico.

New Jersey Seeks More Offshore Wind

New Jersey, for one, has picked itself up and dusted itself off. On January 24 the state issued two new offshore leases totaling 3.7 gigawatts, and earlier this week the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities announced yet another solicitation for offshore bids.

The new solicitation is the fourth in a series. This one is aimed at procuring at least another 1.2 gigawatts in wind energy from New Jersey’s offshore lease areas, up to a potential of 4 gigawatts.

State officials were happy to point out that the January 24 awards will bring an estimated $6.8 billion in economic benefits to the state, partly due to the creation of about 4,350 new jobs. Similar expectations are in the works for the new proposed lease sales, which opened on April 30. The closing date is July 10, so keep an eye out for the results.

Also contributing to the sunny outlook is the new New Jersey Wind Port turbine manufacturing hub. The project was shepherded into existence by current Governor Phil Murphy after the former governor (this governor) was term-limited out of office.

Another piece of the puzzle is the onshore grid connection. That project is under way at a state-owned National Guard training grounds, where it will presumably be secure.

18 Gigawatts For Maine And Oregon

Like New Jersey, other states along the Atlantic Coast are ideal locations for offshore wind development, due to their relatively shallow waters, access to port facilities, and large, energy-sucking coastal populations.

Maine and Oregon fall short in shallow water department, but new floating turbines can open the door to wind development in deeper, more challenging waters.

The US Department of the Interior is responsible for auctioning offshore areas through its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and earlier this week it announced two proposed sales for Maine and Oregon totaling up to 18 gigawatts. The Gulf of Maine will get the lion’s share at up to 15 gigawatts spread among eight lease areas, with Oregon taking the remaining 3 gigawatts among two areas.

The announcement reflects a desire on the part of BOEM to avoid delays and conflicts over offshore wind development into the future.

“The proposed sales reflect a multi-year planning process that has included robust engagement with Tribes, local communities, federal and state agencies, ocean users, and stakeholders to balance the complex social, ecological, and economic factors,” BOEM notes, also taking note of complications involving fishing grounds and vessel traffic.

“These efforts are designed to set an informed foundation to deconflict multiple ocean uses in areas of future offshore wind energy development,” BOEM explains.

Offshore Wind Hearts Green Hydrogen

If you’re wondering what sparsely populated states like Maine and Oregon plan to do with all those clean kilowatts, that’s a good question. Maine, for example, is already dealing with a transmission bottleneck that will be expensive to remedy with new transmission infrastructure, unless they can find an alternative.

Apparently they have. State officials have been exploring the potential for establishing a green hydrogen industry in Maine, powered by offshore wind. In March, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed new legislation committing the state to a pilot project deploying renewable energy to produce hydrogen, which could then be shipped around the state by road, rail, pipeline, or ship. The timeline on that particular project jumps ahead of any offshore turbines resulting from the newly proposed lease sale, but Maine has been eyeballing floating wind technology for future use.

Oregon is also in the running to kickstart a new green hydrogen industry with offshore wind. Last fall the US Department of Energy included a collaboration between Oregon, Washington, and Montana in its final selection of seven awardees under its $7 billion Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program. The three states are tasked with producing green hydrogen from renewable resources.

Louisiana To Rescue Gulf Of Mexico From Offshore Wind Doldrums

Closing out the offshore wind news cycle is Louisiana. Though BOEM had few takers on last year’s Gulf of Mexico lease sale, Louisiana did nail down one bid for wind development in federal waters.

Despite having two feet deep in the oil and gas industry, last December Louisiana also made history as the first US state to contract for offshore wind development in state waters.

This comes as no surprise, considering that oil and gas services companies in Louisiana have been making the pivot to offshore wind ever since they helped the Block Island wind farm get off the drawing board. The state’s powerful ammonia industry has also been exploring the transition to a green ammonia supply chain, based on a copious supply of green hydrogen.

In the latest development in that area, last week the research organization Pew Charitable Trusts issued a report advocating for offshore wind to play a leading role in the sustainable energy future of Louisiana, by virtue of its existing offshore manufacturing facilities and a 60,000-strong offshore workforce. Aside from servicing Louisiana’s own offshore wind farms, these assets would also go to work for offshore areas in other states.

The green hydrogen wheels are already turning. Last summer the Louisiana Department of Economic Development announced an incentive package aimed at enticing the California firm Monarch Energy to set up a $426 million green hydrogen production facility in the state. If the final decision swings to Louisiana, construction is expected to begin next year.

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Photo (cropped): The US wind industry is poised for a big year following a series of setbacks for offshore wind in 2023 (courtesy of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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