White House Unveils Plans for Future Offshore Wind Farms

The fishing industry claims that offshore wind turbines pose an “unacceptable risk” for seafood production.

Block Island Wind Farm is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the US. It was built from 2015-2016 and consists of five turbines.
Block Island Wind Farm is the first commercial offshore wind farm in the US. It was built from 2015-2016 and consists of five turbines.

Kierra Parlagreco / Getty Images

The Biden administration laid out a plan to open up areas on both the East and West coasts to offshore wind energy developers as part of an effort to decarbonize the power sector by 2035.

The blueprint was announced by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who said the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) plans to lease seven areas to wind developers in the Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, Central Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the Carolinas, California, and Oregon.

“The Interior Department is laying out an ambitious roadmap as we advance the Administration’s plans to confront climate change, create good-paying jobs, and accelerate the nation’s transition to a cleaner energy future,” said Secretary Haaland. “This timetable provides two crucial ingredients for success: increased certainty and transparency,” she added.

The White House aims to lease these areas to developers by 2025 as the first step toward its goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030—enough to power 10 million homes.

About a dozen wind farms could be built in New York Bight—a stretch of shallow waters between Long Island and the New Jersey coast that the Biden administration has designated as the country’s “priority Wind Energy Area.” California is likely to attract significant offshore wind investments as Gov. Gavin Newsom has laid out a plan to build wind farms in areas off the central and northern coasts of the state. 

The U.S. is well behind other countries when it comes to offshore wind, with just one operating offshore wind farm in Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, with a capacity of 30 megawatts, and a smaller pilot project off the coast of Virginia. For comparison, Europe already has 25 gigawatts of installed offshore wind power capacity, the United Kingdom has 10.4 gigawatts and China has nearly 8 gigawatts.

The Biden administration wants to jumpstart the offshore wind energy industry to create tens of thousands of jobs and slash emissions from the electricity sector, but for that to happen it would need to approve six more Construction and Operations Plans (COPs) by 2025.

The White House in May approved its first COP for a commercial offshore wind farm, the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind, which will be built about 15 miles off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. 

The $2.8-billion project will consist of 84 wind turbines that will generate enough energy to power 400,000 homes. Vineyard Wind will feature Haliade-X turbines with 351-feet long blades—longer than a football field—which manufacturer General Electric describes as “the most powerful offshore wind turbine in the world.”

Vineyard Wind is expected to start producing energy in 2023.

Offshore Wind Leasing Path Forward 2021–2025


Fishing, Wildlife Concerns

Haaland said BOEM will strive to identify other offshore areas suitable for wind power facilities and that it will carry out consultations with stakeholders such as “tribes, industry, [and] ocean users” to minimize potential conflicts. Polls show that Republican voters have mixed feelings about wind power generation, while environmentalists, the fishing industry, and owners of coastal properties have previously expressed concerns about offshore wind developments.

Last month, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a group that represents the fishing industry, sued the Department of Interior saying that federal officials hastily approved the Vineyard Wind project without taking into consideration the “unacceptable risk” that wind turbines pose for seafood production.

Obtaining the necessary permits and carrying out environmental assessment studies for large-scale energy projects can take years and opposition from interest groups could further delay the process. In addition, ports will need upgrades, installation vessels will need to be built, and hundreds of wind turbines will have to be manufactured, including cutting-edge floating wind turbines.

The Department of Energy this week said it will provide $13.5 million in funding to four projects to study potential impacts of offshore wind turbines on marine life and fisheries. 

“In order for Americans living in coastal areas to see the benefits of offshore wind, we must ensure that it’s done with care for the surrounding ecosystem by co-existing with fisheries and marine life–and that’s exactly what this investment will do,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said.