February 6, 2018 Read More →

East Coast of U.S. Emerging Into a Hotbed for Offshore Wind

Scientific American/E&E news:

Atlantic coast states might be protesting President Trump’s plan to expand offshore oil drilling, but they’re increasingly embracing a different kind of seaborne energy: wind.

States bordering the outer continental shelf are looking for carbon-free electricity, even as the Trump administration rolls back rules requiring it.

Last week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that his state will aim for 3,500 megawatts of installed offshore wind by 2030, enough to power 1 million homes. Massachusetts has a goal to build 1,600 MW of offshore wind power by 2027, and New York has committed to 2,400 MW by 2030.

At the same time, wind technology is quickly advancing, thanks to its popularity in Europe. Ten countries across Europe had deployed 12,600 MW of offshore wind power by the end of 2016. In the United States, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued 13 wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast. In late 2016, the first offshore wind farm in the United States came online about 4 miles off the coast of Block Island, R.I.

It’s unclear how the growth in offshore wind might be affected by Trump’s plan to open nearly all U.S. waters to oil and gas drilling.

But there are hints that the two types of development could come into contact on the open water.

According to BOEM’s draft proposed 2019-24 offshore oil and gas leasing plan, any drilling off the Atlantic Seaboard would have to be “coordinated” with current and future offshore wind development. The agency predicts that more wind projects are likely to be built between 2019 and 2024, when oil and gas lease sales are slated to be held.

Experts said it’s unlikely there would be direct competition for the same slice of ocean between the two industries. But that’s a hard question to answer.

Kevin Book, managing director of research for ClearView Energy Partners LLC, said it’s too early to know how offshore wind and oil and gas development might interact off the East Coast. Historically, offshore wind has been a nascent industry, and no one has drilled for oil in the Atlantic for decades. It’s been so long that developers have little idea what type of oil reserves lie under the sea, or if oil companies will want to tap them.

It’s possible that the wind and oil industries may compete for the same blocks of ocean seabed. That could create strife. Generally, when BOEM grants renewable energy rights on the outer continental shelf, they are exclusive rights to the seafloor.

“In most of those cases, however, I see more complementarity than conflict,” Book said in an email. “Shared leasing of onshore staging, shipping and exploration vessels, etc.”

America’s offshore drilling industry has already participated in the burgeoning offshore wind sector. When the 30-MW wind farm near Block Island was being constructed, Louisiana-based Gulf Island Fabrication Inc. constructed the foundations for the turbines. They were designed by another oil and gas firm, Keystone Engineering Inc. based out of Mandeville, La.

“The reality is that the [draft proposed plan], and ability to open the Atlantic to development, would bring more of the suppliers to where the wind operators are at,” said Timothy Charters, senior director of government affairs for the National Ocean Industries Association. “If we have more suppliers in order to service offshore platforms in the Atlantic, there would be more suppliers for wind, too.”

More: Trump Wants Offshore Drilling, but States Are Choosing Wind Energy

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