With 40GW already in various stage of active development in the US, there are plenty of opportunities for substantial expansion in the new, untapped areas outlined in the plan. This is an exciting time for offshore wind in the US, and the strategy is a clear indication of the country’s commitment to renewable energy. While the strategy is bold and ambitious, there are key areas that need attention to ensure they do not hold back development.
One of the most critical elements that cannot be overlooked is the need for streamlining the BOEM leasing process. From the start of the identification of lease prospects to completing installation can take up to 8-10 years - presenting a significant hurdle and making the finance of these projects harder to justify. It would be beneficial to streamline and optimize the process, reducing the amount of time it takes from initial identification to installation. By reducing these timelines, we can increase the viability and attractiveness of offshore wind projects, allowing for greater investment and development in the industry.
The offshore wind industry has tremendous potential for growth, but the permitting process can be a challenging obstacle. With approximately 40 permits required before construction can begin, it can take up to five years to complete. By streamlining the permitting process, simplifying requirements, and reducing the time and resources needed for approval; we can encourage the growth of the offshore wind industry and reduce project timelines and costs.
Port infrastructure gap
Another area that cannot be overlooked is the need for port infrastructure. Ports are a hub for various strands of the industry — component supply, turbine installation, offshore maintenance — but the current infrastructure and marshalling areas are not mature enough to support the projected expansion. Offshore wind cannot expect to scale without seeing commensurate upgrades in ports and harbours. And while the government is offering tax credits to support growth, direct investment would prove more beneficial. An alternative option to having developers cover the cost of upgrades would be for BOEM to funnel some of the investment received from lease auctions into this infrastructure.
Jones Act bottleneck
The Jones Act, designed to protect the American shipping industry from foreign competitors, adds significant complexities. Since only US vessels can transport material between the port and the project site, developers have often had to rely on engaging local barges to install turbines and blades. To achieve the administration’s goal of 30GW by 2030, the industry will need at least five to seven quality wind turbine installation vessels (WTIV). These vessels however are expensive to build, and currently there is only one Jones-Act compliant WTIV available. The lack of access to these can lead to significant delays in the installation phase, as other less efficient methods are sought. Relaxation of the Jones Act compliance rules, or other alternative strategies, should be considered to truly accelerate development.
Fragmented local content rules
Although the US is making significant progress towards achieving its offshore wind goals, it is still a relatively new and developing market that has different or fragmented local content requirements in each state. While these requirements are helpful in boosting the US workforce and supply chain development, they may potentially cause further project delays, which could impede the achievement of overall goals. Consequently, with these mandates still in effect, it could be challenging for the US to meet the "now" and "forward" pillars outlined by the Department of Energy.
These pillars aim to lower costs of the electricity delivered from offshore wind generation. But the local content requirements, the Jones Act, and grid infrastructure upgrades all result in significant additional costs to developers. As we’ve seen in other offshore wind markets, this can create challenges in pushing down the overall costs of offshore wind deployment over time. The US experience may prove exceptional, here, if it is able to secure the same fall in costs as onshore wind and solar - but it will likely require some flexibility in approaches to local content.
An additional core area of consideration is grid connectivity. For some offshore wind projects, grid connectivity is either old or non-existent, and the funds required to upgrade or build this infrastructure is significant. Currently, we are seeing steps taken in a project-by-project approach; while this functions for now, the grid is not capable of handling the anticipated increase in load over the next decade. A focus is therefore needed on developing a robust and coordinated backbone for the advance of offshore wind, via grid infrastructure.
Collaborate to find solutions
The DoE’s offshore wind strategy is an unprecedented and praiseworthy effort that puts the country on the right track towards meeting its offshore wind targets. There will be challenges, but collaboration with industry is the key to devising the solutions to overcome them.
Lars Andersen is president, Americas at K2 Management
Thumbnail credit: pic credit: Lyfted Media/Dominion Energy