Sale jumpstarts floating, offshore wind power in US waters

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Tuesday is the first U.S. auction of leases for the development of commercial floating wind farms, in deep waters off the West Coast.

A live, online auction for five leases – three on California’s central coast and two on its north coast – attracted strong interest and 43 companies from around the world were allowed to bid. The wind turbines will float about 25 miles offshore.

The growth of offshore wind comes as climate change intensifies and the need for clean energy grows. It’s also getting cheaper. Offshore wind development costs have fallen by 60% since 2010, according to a July report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It fell by 13% in 2021 alone.

Offshore wind is well established in the UK and some other countries, but it’s just starting to spread off US shores, and this is the nation’s first foray into floating wind turbines. Until now, the auctions were for those anchored on 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 U.S. coast, said Josh Kaplowitz, vice president for offshore wind at the American Clean Power Association.

“We know this works.” We know this can provide a large part of our electricity needs, and if we want to solve the climate crisis, we need to put as many clean electrons online as we can, especially given the increase in demand for electric vehicle loads,” he said. “We can only achieve our greenhouse gas targets with offshore wind as part of the puzzle.”

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

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The nation’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 noticed, but with five turbines it’s not commercial.

Globally, as of 2021, there was only 123 megawatts of floating offshore wind, but that number is projected to increase to nearly 19 gigawatts — a 150-fold increase — by 2030, according to the report last week by Offshore Wind California.

The California sell-off is designed to promote the domestic 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 fishermen.

As envisioned, the turbines — possibly almost as tall as the Eiffel Tower — will float on giant triangular platforms about the size of a small city block, or floating cylinders with cables anchoring them underwater. Each will have three blades longer than the distance from home plate to the field on a baseball diamond, and will have to be assembled on land and towed, upright, to their destination on the open ocean.

Modern tall turbines, whether on 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 the Humboldt Bay Harbor Conservation and Recreation District, which was preparing its deepwater port for projects.

Offshore wind is a good supplement to solar energy, which shuts down at night. Winds far offshore are stronger and more persistent and also pick up in the evening, just when solar power is shutting down and demand is high, said Jim Berger, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright who specializes in financing renewable energy projects.

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California has a goal of carbon neutrality by 2045. But “when the sun goes down, we become more reliant on fossil fuel generation,” Berger said. “These projects are huge so when you add a project or several projects, you add significantly to the power generation base of the state,” he said.

The leaseholds have the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of energy – enough to power 1.5 million homes – and could make a big difference to communities in the rural coastal regions closest to the leasehold.

In remote Humboldt County, Northern California, offshore projects are expected to generate more than 4,000 jobs and $38 million in state and local tax revenue in an area that has been economically depressed since the decline of the timber industry in the 1970s and 1980s. . , toward Humboldt Bay Harbor, Conservation and Recreation District.

The county has already received $12 million from California to prepare its deepwater port for the potential installation of the massive turbines, which are too tall to fit under most bridges as they are pulled out to sea, said Oetker, the county’s executive director.

“We have hundreds of acres of vacant, underutilized industrial property rights on the existing navigation channel … and there are no overhead bridges, power lines or anything,” he said.

But some are also wary of the projects, despite favoring the transition to clean energy.

Environmentalists are concerned about the impact on endangered and threatened whales, which could become entangled in the cables that will anchor the turbines. There are also concerns about birds and bats colliding with the turbine blades and whales being hit by ships towing the components to the site. Federal regulators set the boat speed limit for the project at less than 12 miles per hour to address that problem, said Kristen Hyslop, senior director of marine programs at the Environmental Protection Agency.

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“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 vast coastal regions also worry about damage to their ancestral lands from turbine installation facilities and transmission infrastructure. They fear that the farms will be visible on clear days from the holy prayer places high in the mountains.

Frankie Myers, vice president of the Yurok tribe, has attended four wind development conferences in the past year. The tribes worked with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees the leasing process, to secure a 5 percent loan offer that includes tribal communities for the first time, he said. The agency also helped with a cultural assessment of the potential impact on views from holy places of worship, he said.

The tribes are now so engaged, early on, because they are used to outside industries coming to them with promises that are not fulfilled. They’ve seen things done wrong, and knowing this area intimately, they want this 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 it’s going,'” Myers said. “There is no doubt where the best wind comes from, we all understand that.” We’ve been here for several thousand years.”


Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter here.


Associated Press climate and environmental reporting receives support from several private foundations. See more about the AP climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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