White House vows 'aggressive' US offshore wind leasing action

The White House fiscal 2020 budget proposal sent to Congress would continue to advance commercial offshore wind energy in federal waters along the US east and west coasts through an “aggressive” leasing programme and “streamlined” environmental and permitting processes.

In the upcoming fiscal year (1 October – 30 September 2020), the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is planning to identify additional potential lease areas offshore California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Still, despite strong political support for offshore wind development from the administration of President Donald Trump, its 2020 appropriation request for renewables is $1.75m lower than the $17.13m approved by Congress for fiscal year (FY) 2019.

This will partly offset by a forecast $5.94m in collections from 16 commercial wind energy leaseholders versus $4.54m expected in FY 2019.

The offshore wind industry has been lobbying the administration for more renewables funding in the hope this would translate to a faster and more robust lease auction schedule.

After BOEM last December raised a record $405m through lease auctions for three zones off the Massachusetts coast, but it remains unclear when the next competitive tenders will take place.

BOEM, which oversees wind energy development on the outer continental shelf (OCS) beyond state territorial limits, could auction several areas facing New York/New Jersey and California late this year or more likely in first quarter 2020. It has staged wind lease auctions each year since 2012.

New York and New Jersey have set 5.9GW of offshore wind capacity targets by 2030 between them and want an ambitious, clear lease auction timetable heading into next decade as they compete for billions of dollars in potential east coast supply chain investment.

California under its new Governor Gavin Newsome views offshore wind as a potential albeit marginal homegrown source to help meet its nation-leading renewables ambitions in the 2020s.

Investors are less enthusiastic about development in southeastern states given competition from cheap natural gas, inferior wind resource, lack of state subsidies and lower electricity prices on the mainland.

Hawaii is viewed as a long-term possibility with near-shore water depths requiring costly floating foundations and numerous cultural, defence and other issues that must be resolved with stakeholders including native Hawaiians and the US Navy.

While BOEM is sensitive to the offshore wind industry’s desire for an accelerated schedule for lease auctions, officials there argue they can only go so far, so fast.

They noted that developing a wind energy area is a multi-year process calling for identifying areas that may be suitable and working through a public consultation to find areas that both support wind and have a manageable level of conflict with other offshore uses.

The administration has streamlined the permitting process but not as much as it would like because of federal environmental laws that would require action by Congress to modify or overturn.

Trump, whose antipathy toward onshore wind turbines as "ugly" is well-known and who fought and lost a long court battle in Scotland to prevent the development of an offshore wind farm within sight of Trump International Golf Club near Aberdeen, views development of US offshore projects as a critical element to help the country attain "energy dominance".

That's a catch-word for the administration’s geopolitical strategy for achieving self-sufficiency in energy and to maximise the economic and technological benefits of doing so, while having ample surplus for export to friendly nations facing supply uncertainties – particularly from Russia and the Middle East.