Sale revives floating offshore wind power in US waters

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

The live online auction for the five leases – three off California’s central coast and two off its northern coast – has generated strong interest, and 43 companies from around the world are approved to bid. The turbines will float about 25 miles offshore.

The growth of offshore wind comes as climate change intensifies and the need for clean energy increases. It also becomes cheaper. The cost of developing offshore wind has fallen 60% since 2010 according to a July report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It’s down 13% in 2021 alone.

Offshore wind is well established in the UK and some other countries, but is just beginning to grow off the US coast, and this is the country’s first foray into floating wind turbines. So far the bidding has been for those anchored to the seabed.

Europe has floating offshore wind – a project in the North Sea has been operating since 2017 – but the potential for the technology is huge in high wind areas off the US coast, said Josh Kaplowitz, vice president of offshore wind at American Clean Power. Association.

“We know it works. We know this can provide a huge chunk of our electricity needs, and if we’re going to solve the climate crisis, we need to get as many clean electrons online as possible, especially given the increasing load demand. with electric vehicles,” he said. “We can only meet our greenhouse gas targets with offshore wind as part of the puzzle.”

Similar auctions are underway off the coast of Oregon next year and in the Gulf of Maine in 2024. President Joe Biden has set a goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 using traditional technology that anchors wind turbines to the ocean floor, enough to power 10 million homes. Then the administration announced plans in September to develop floating platforms that could significantly expand offshore wind power in the United States.

The country’s first offshore wind farm opened off the coast of Rhode Island in late 2016, allowing residents of tiny Block Island to shut down five diesel generators. Wind advocates have taken notice, but with five wind turbines, it’s not commercial scale.

Globally, in 2021, there were just 123 megawatts of floating offshore wind power, but that number is expected to grow to nearly 19 gigawatts — 150 times that amount — by 2030, according to a report. last week by Offshore Wind California.

The California sale is designed to promote a national supply chain and create union jobs. Bidders can convert a portion of their bids into credits that benefit those affected by wind development – ​​local communities, tribes and commercial fishers.

As expected, the turbines – perhaps nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower – will float on giant triangular platforms roughly the size of a small city block or floating cylinders with cables anchoring them underneath. water. They will each have three blades longer than the distance from home plate to the outfield on a baseball diamond, and will need to be assembled ashore and towed, upright, to their destination on the high seas.

Modern tall turbines, whether onshore or offshore, can produce more than 20 times more electricity than shorter machines from, say, the early 1990s.

As for visibility, “in absolutely perfect conditions, crystal clear on the best days, at the highest point, you might be able to see little dots on the horizon,” said Larry Oetker, executive director of Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation. District, which is preparing its deep water port for the projects.

Offshore wind is a good complement to solar power, which turns off at night. Winds far offshore are stronger and more sustained and also pick up in the evening, just when solar power disconnects but demand is high, said Jim Berger, partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, specializing in financing renewable energy projects.

California has a 2045 carbon neutral goal. But “when the sun goes down, we rely more on fossil fuel production,” Berger said. “These projects are huge, so when you add a project or a few projects, you dramatically increase the state’s power generation base,” he said.

The lease areas have the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of power – enough for 1.5 million homes – and could bring big changes to communities in the rural coastal regions closest to the leases.

In remote Humboldt County, Northern California, offshore projects are expected to generate more than 4,000,000 jobs and $38 million in state and local tax revenue in a region economically depressed since the decline of the lumber industry in the 1970s and 1980s., according to the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District.

The district has already received $12 million from California to prepare its deepwater port for the potential assembly of the massive turbines, which are too tall to pass under most bridges as they are towed out to sea, Oetker said. , district executive director.

“We have hundreds of acres of vacant and underutilized industrial property right on the existing shipping channel…and there are no flyovers or power lines or anything,” he said. declared.

But some are also wary of projects, yet favorable to a transition to clean energy.

Environmentalists are worried about the impacts on threatened and endangered whales, which could become entangled in the cables that will anchor the turbines. There are also fears of birds and bats colliding with turbine blades and whales being struck by ships towing components to the site. Federal regulators set a boating speed limit for the project of less than 12 mph to address that concern, said Kristen Hislop, senior marine program director at the Environmental Defense Center.

“Floating offshore wind is brand new and there are only a few projects in the world and we don’t know how it will affect our coast,” she said.

Tribes in the vast coastal regions also worry about damage to their ancestral lands from turbine assembly plants and transmission infrastructure. They fear that the farms will be visible on a clear day from sacred places of worship in the mountains.

Frankie Myers, Vice President of the Yurok Tribe, has attended four wind developer conferences in the past year. The tribes worked with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees the leasing process, to secure a 5% bid credit that includes tribal communities for the first time, he said. The agency also helped with a cultural assessment of the potential impact on views of sacred places of worship, he said.

The tribes are so engaged now, from the start, because they are used to outside industries coming to them with promises that are not kept. They’ve seen things done wrong, and knowing this windswept area intimately, they want it done right, he said.

“Before they even showed us the map, before they even showed us all their breakdowns…we were like, ‘We know exactly where this is going,'” Myers said. “There’s no doubt where the best wind comes from, we all understand that. We have been here for a few thousand years.

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