Sale jumpstarts offshore floating wind power in the U.S.

Tuesday marks the first-ever U.S. auction of leases to develop commercial-scale floating wind farms, in the deep waters off the West Coast.

PORTLAND (Ore.) — Tuesday marked the first ever U.S. auction for leases to build commercial-scale floating farms in deep waters off the West Coast.

Live, online auctions for five leases — three on California’s central coast, and two on California’s northern coast — attracted strong interest. 43 companies from all over the globe were approved to bid. The wind turbines will be floating approximately 25 miles offshore.

As climate change increases and the need for clean energy grows, offshore wind is expected to grow. It is also becoming more affordable. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s July report , offshore wind development costs have dropped 60% since 2010. It fell 13% in 2021.

Although offshore wind is well-established in the U.K., the U.S. is only beginning to develop off the coasts of America. This is America’s first venture into floating wind turbines. So far, auctions have only been held for those anchored to seafloor.

Europe has floating offshore wind. A project in the North Sea is in operation since 2017. But the technology has huge potential in areas of strong winds off America’s coasts. Josh Kaplowitz (Vice President of Offshore Wind at the American Clean Power Association) said that.

We know this works. This can supply a large portion of our electricity needs. If we want to solve the climate crisis, we need as many clean electrons as possible, especially given increased demand for electric vehicles. Offshore wind is the only way to reach our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Similar auctions will be held off Oregon’s coast in 2019 and 2024 in the Gulf of Maine. President Joe Biden established a goal to deploy 30 gigawatts offshore wind by 2030. This was using traditional technology that secures the wind turbines to a seafloor, enough to power 10,000,000 homes. In September , the administration announced plans to create floating platforms that could greatly expand offshore wind in the United States.

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The minimum bids for leases are $6 million to $8 millions, although sales could be higher. The record-breaking auction for traditional offshore wind leases from New York and New Jersey, which took place earlier this year, netted over $4 billion.

In late 2016, the nation’s first offshore windfar opened off Rhode Island, allowing Block Island residents to turn off five diesel generators. Although it was noticed by wind advocates, the five turbines are not commercially viable.

This sale will promote domestic supply chains and create union jobs. Bidders have the option to convert part of their bids in credits that will benefit local communities, tribes, and commercial fishermen.

The turbines will be floating on triangular platforms the size of small cities, with cables anchoring them below the water. Each blade will be three times longer than the distance between home plate and the outfield of a baseball diamond. They must be assembled onshore before being towed upright to their open-ocean destination.

From the early 1990s, modern tall turbines can produce 20 times more electricity than shorter machines.

According to Larry Oetker, executive Director of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District, visibility is possible in “absolutely perfect conditions, crystal-clear on the best days, and at the highest point, there might be small dots on horizon.” The district has been preparing its deep water port for the projects.

Offshore wind can be a great complement to solar energy which is shut down at night. Winds farther out to sea are more powerful and sustainably, and they pick up in the evening when solar power is still in use, according to Jim Berger, a Norton Rose Fulbright partner who specializes in financing renewable energy projects.

California has set a 2045 goal for carbon neutrality. Berger stated that “when the sun sets, we’re more dependent on fossil fuel generators.” He said that these projects are enormous so adding a few projects to the power generation base will make a significant impact on the state’s power generation.

Lease areas can generate 4.5 gigawatts (enough to power 1.5 million homes) and could make a big impact on rural communities along the coast.

According to the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District, offshore projects will create more than 4,000 000 jobs and $38 millions in state and local tax revenue. This is an area that has been economically weak since the collapse of the timber industry in 1970s and 1980s.

California already gave $12 million to the district to help prepare the deep-water port for the assembly of the huge turbines. Oetker is the district’s executive Director.

He stated that there are hundreds of acres of unutilized industrial property located on the existing navigation channel. “There’s no overhead bridges, power lines or anything.”

However, some people are wary of these projects, even though they support a transition towards clean energy.

Environmentalists are worried about the impact on endangered and threatened whales. The cables that will anchor turbines could entrap them. Concerns are raised about birds and bats colliding and whales being struck by the vessels that tow components to the site. Kristen Hislop from the Environmental Defense Center, senior director of marine program, stated that the federal regulators have established a boating speed limit of 12 mph for the project to address this concern.

She stated that floating offshore wind was a new concept and only a few projects are currently underway. “We don’t know how it will impact our coast.”

Tribes living in vast coastal areas are also concerned about the possibility of damage to ancestral lands by transmission infrastructure and turbine assembly plants. They are concerned that turbine assembly plants and transmission infrastructure will make the farms visible from sacred prayer sites high up in the mountains.

Frankie Myers is vice chairman of Yurok Tribe and has been to four wind developer conferences over the past year. He said that tribes collaborated with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to secure a bid credit of 5% for tribal communities. He said that the agency helped to conduct a cultural assessment about the possible impact on sacred prayer sites’ views.

Tribes are engaged because they are used a lot to promises from outside industries. He said that they have seen wrongdoings and know the area well, so they are determined to make it right.

Myers stated, “Before they even shown us the map, and before they even showed all of their breakdowns, we were like, ‘We know exactly where that is going.'” We all know that there is no doubt where the best wind blows from. We have been here for several thousand years.

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