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Offshore Wind’s Path Ahead in the U.S.

Wind turbine technician

In early December 2023, New York’s first offshore wind project—South Fork Wind—became the first commercial-scale installment to send electricity to the U.S. grid. When the project is fully built out in 2024, it should generate 132 megawatts (MW) of energy—enough to power more than 70,000 homes. The first turbines of the Vineyard Wind project are now spinning off the coast of Massachusetts, and the fully-built project will soon generate enough energy to power 400,000 homes while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs. And much more of this clean energy resource is on the way.

The federal government has set a bold goal of deploying 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030, enough to power more than 10 million homes annually with clean energy, support 77,000 jobs, and spur private investment up and down the supply chain. The environmental benefits, economic gains, and role of responsibly developed offshore wind in realizing a just and equitable clean energy future are the reasons U.S. Energy Foundation (EF) is prioritizing this electricity source.

Offshore lease sales are underway to help achieve this goal. The federal offshore wind plan unveiled in October 2021 included offering lease sales in seven U.S. regions before 2025. To date, auctions have been held in New York and New Jersey, the Carolinas, California, and in the Gulf of Mexico, with anticipated sales for the the Central Atlantic, the Pacific Coast of Oregon, and the Gulf of Maine on track for 2024. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) expects to review at least 16 “Construction and Operations Plans” of commercial, offshore wind energy facilities by 2025, to reach 30 GW by 2030. 

It’s an ambitious plan that will bring jobs and clean energy to every part of the country. EF grantees are among the leaders for each state opportunity, educating people about the potential and real benefits of wind for local communities. Building on the leadership of EF’s environmental justice grantees and partners, advocates are working to identify and address barriers to engagement—including those raised by tribes—as well as concerns about equitable transmission and distribution planning challenges specific to offshore wind.

Progress in the states

As part of our target to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050, EF’s goal for offshore wind is to foster conditions for equitable, responsible deployment of at least 10 GW of offshore wind projects by 2025. Here’s what’s happening in states pursuing offshore wind: 

Louisiana has taken action—including setting a 5 GW goal—to prime the market for offshore wind in the area, which led to BOEM’s first-ever offshore wind energy lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. The Lake Charles Lease Area, awarded to RWE Offshore U.S. Gulf, LLC, has the potential to generate 1.24 GW of offshore wind energy capacity and power nearly 435,400 homes.

The federal government approved what will be the country’s largest offshore wind farm, a 176-turbine project off the Virginia coast. Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project will install 176 giant wind turbines to power 900,000 homes with 2,600 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy. 

The first-ever auction for leases to build wind farms off California’s coast netted final bids of $757.1 earlier this year, signaling the beginning of a competitive market. The state’s ultimate goal is to produce at least 25 GW from offshore wind sources by 2045—the boldest commitment any state has made to date. 

The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut recently unveiled a new agreement to coordinate offshore wind development, allowing the New England states to jointly solicit proposals from developers to help cut costs.

Making progress in the face of headwinds

While solar projects, hiring announcements, and foreign and domestic funding continue to blanket the U.S.—thanks in large part to the Inflation Reduction Act—offshore wind projects have faced some headwinds. Local communities and site developers are working to find solutions to challenges of construction costs, the logistics of bringing energy to shore, and protections for marine life and commercial fisheries.

New Jersey has long been on the frontlines of adopting offshore wind with the goal of achieving 11 GW of energy by 2040. While the Danish wind company Ørsted canceled two New Jersey projects (Ocean Wind 1 and 2) in the fall, a third project, Atlantic Shore Offshore Win, expressed continued commitment, and additional project awards are expected in the new year.

New York recently denied requests by dozens of developers of renewable energy projects—including three offshore wind installations—that were seeking inflationary adjustments to existing contracts. However, Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration quickly released a plan indicating renewed support for offshore wind. Within the next week, New York announced the largest awards in U.S. history (a combined 4 GW total), and its intention to release an expedited fourth solicitation.

In North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper committed to achieving offshore wind goals of 2.8 GW off the coast by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040, ultimately powering roughly 2.3 million homes across the state. Setbacks facing currently proposed projects stem from military concerns about interference with radar systems. Offshore wind leases are not new in North Carolina, with two sites off the Southeastern coast. EF grantees are hopeful that a compromise allowing offshore wind to coexist with training operations will soon be met.

Two Texas-area projects did not receive bids during BOEM’s lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico this year—but the lack of bids is not unprecedented, particularly for newer offshore wind markets. While the Lone Star State is the highest onshore wind-producing state in the country with 26,000 jobs, advocates are working to pave the way for industry to support offshore installations.

As EF grantees work to scale, accelerate, and deepen offshore wind support between regions and the national landscape, equity must be at the forefront. Local workers, communities, and natural resources, including maximizing equity and environmental justice outcomes.

And as climate change consequences become increasingly severe, the immediate and long-term benefits of clean, renewable energy are clear. The stakes have never been higher.