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For the first time ever, offshore wind is coming to the West Coast

Two wind turbines stand in the middle of the ocean in a sky dotted with a few clouds.
In 2020, installation was completed on the first wind turbines installed in U.S. Federal waters. The offshore wind project has been fully operational since Fall 2020. Image Credit: Flickr/Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

Historically, California is a trailblazer of renewable energy in the U.S., from being home to the country’s largest wind and solar farms to pioneering electric vehicles, to championing much of America’s climate legislation over the last decade. But, offshore wind, a renewable source that more than doubles the output of land turbines, is mostly concentrated on the east coast.

Now, as the Biden-Harris administration moves to fulfill the offshore wind plans in the Inflation Reduction Act, the west coast is headed to finally join the offshore wind revolution.

Announced Tuesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold an offshore wind energy lease sale on December 6, 2022, for areas on the coast of central and Northern California. Not only is this the first-ever lease sale on the west coast, but it's the first-ever U.S. sale to support potential commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy development. Commercialization may be key to scaling this source and weaning the nation off of fossil fuels.

The majority of Americans live near vast offshore wind resources. According to the Department of Energy, nearly 80% of the nation’s electricity demand occurs in coastal and Great Lakes states, where over half of Americans live. Despite the mass potential for offshore wind existing across the country, it has yet to be scaled evenly. Compared to onshore wind, these ocean turbines are more efficient and have greater consistency and power thanks to the high, steady speeds of sea winds.

Now, in pursuit of a clean energy future, BOEM will offer five California lease areas that total over 370,000 acres with the potential to produce over 4.5 (gigawatts) GW of offshore wind energy. That’s enough to power more than 1.5 million homes, adding to the 13 million homes undergoing American projects can potentially power. The new offshore farms are expected to provide thousands of jobs across the region.

To date, BOEM has held 10 competitive lease sales and issued 27 active commercial wind leases in the Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts to North Carolina. This is indicative of the 58% growth offshore wind set this quarter. This growth is largely driven by the billions in tax credits for offshore wind manufacturing issued by the IRA.

This federal support comes with the goal to reach 15 GW of offshore power generation by 2035. This support is matched by ambitious targets set by states like New Jersey, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and of course, California.

In August, California announced its goal to deploy 25 GW of floating offshore wind generation by 2045. New Jersey holds one of the largest goals in the country with a whopping target of 11,000 MW by 2040. North Carolina plans to deploy 8,000 MW by the same year, Massachusetts, 5,600 by 2027, and Louisiana, 5,000 by 2035.

The offshore wind revolution doesn’t stop there. Startups domestically and around the world are creating novel designs to better harness the ocean winds. The IRA also undoes a Trump-era moratorium on federal offshore wind leases in the Southeast, potentially opening the door for new opportunities for Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida, despite the Sunshine State’s seemingly limited strong-wind potential.

Back on the west coast, BOEM will offer bidding credits for bidders who enter into community benefits agreements or invest in workforce training or supply chain development. This would require winning bidders to make efforts to enter into project labor agreements and engage with Tribes, underserved communities, ocean users, and agencies.

“Today’s announcement represents years of close coordination and engagement with the state of California, Tribes, ocean users, local communities, and all interested parties to move us closer towards achieving the administration’s vision to fight climate change and realizing California’s clean energy future, while creating a domestic supply chain and good-paying union jobs,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton in a statement.

The economic opportunities need to be accessible to all, she said per the Associated Press. BOEM is not only committed to the transition, but “We’re actually taking action and driving results.”


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