President Biden Pushes Major Expansion for Offshore Wind Energy

Tue March 30, 2021 - National Edition
National Public Radio

As the White House slows down fossil fuel development on public lands and offshore, it's ramping up renewable energy with a push to jump-start the offshore wind energy business.

On March 29 President Biden made that announcement as part of his administration's effort to fulfill the ambitious climate plan he campaigned on, including making the nation's electricity sector carbon neutral by 2035.

As with much of Biden's climate message, a key focus is on creating jobs.

"President Biden believes we have an enormous opportunity in front of us to not only address the threats of climate change but use it as a chance to create millions of good-paying, union jobs that will fuel America's economic recovery," White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy said in a statement before the announcement.

The Interior Department plans to start selling leases later this year for a new "wind energy area" in the New York Bight, the relatively shallow waters between Long Island and the New Jersey coast.

A study last summer by the research firm Wood Mackenzie showed that constructing offshore wind turbines there would support approximately 32,000 jobs from 2022 to 2030. It also found it would support approximately 6,000 permanent jobs.

The National Ocean Industries Association, which represents offshore wind as well as oil companies, praised the announcement, saying the benefits will be felt across the country.

"In areas like the Gulf Coast, you will find steel fabricators, heavy lift vessel operators, subsea construction companies, helicopter service providers and more who built their experience in the oil and gas industry but will be vital in building offshore wind," Erik Milito, the association's president, said in a statement.

Louisiana's governor has proposed developing wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the country needs to boost the offshore wind industry because "for generations, we've put off the transition to clean energy, and now we're facing a climate crisis." Scientists said most of the world's fossil fuels will need to stay in the ground to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

In the future, the administration wants to see a thriving offshore wind industry up and down the East Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico and along the West Coast. It's setting a target of employing tens of thousands more workers to deploy 30 gigawatts of turbines by 2030. That's enough to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes for a year, according to the White House.

Also March 29, the Interior Department announced plans to complete reviews for at least 16 more areas where offshore wind could be developed by 2025. That will require new investments in ports, and new factories to build wind turbines and parts. The administration's eventual goal is for the United States to generate 110 gigawatts of electricity offshore by 2050.

Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey all have their own plans for a domestic offshore wind industry. New Jersey announced in January plans for a "wind port" to supply projects along the East Coast.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management already is working on environmental reviews for the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts and South Fork Wind off Rhode Island. The bureau announced it will start preparing an environmental impact statement for the Ocean Wind project off New Jersey.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also has signed an agreement with Ocean Wind's Danish developer Ørsted to share environmental data, such as ocean mapping.

One challenge new offshore wind projects face is local opposition. The group Save Our Shoreline NJ has opposed the Ocean Wind project, saying it would hurt local tourism, recreation and commercial fishing industries. The administration said $1 million in grants will be available to study effects on fishing and local communities.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hopes to speed up environmental reviews for these projects by removing the most contentious areas from consideration.

As part of the March 29 announcement, the Department of Energy also plans to offer $3 billion in government-backed loans to the offshore wind industry. It expects to award $8 million to 15 research and development projects through an existing program.

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