On October 13, 2021, the Biden Administration announced its plan to develop seven major offshore wind farms on the East and West coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico. These projects are part of President Biden’s plan to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, which would generate enough electricity to power more than 10 million homes. Officials said the projects could avoid about 78 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions, while creating up to 77,000 jobs.
Deb Haaland, Secretary for the Department of the Interior (DOI), said her department is “laying out an ambitious road map as we advance the administration’s plans to confront climate change, create good-paying jobs, and accelerate the nation’s transition to a cleaner energy future.” According to Secretary Haaland, DOI hopes to hold lease sales by 2025 of the coasts of Maine, New York, and the mid-Atlantic, as well as the Carolinas, California, Oregon, and the Gulf of Mexico. This is in addition to DOI’s ongoing collaboration with other federal agencies to increase renewable energy production on public lands, with a goal of at least 25 gigawatts of onshore renewable energy from wind and solar power by 2025.
Secretary Haaland also addressed commercial fishing businesses, which have historically been a source of opposition to offshore wind farms. She said officials hope to reduce conflict with fishing groups by engaging “early and often with all stakeholders prior to identifying any new wind energy areas.” Relatedly, the Department of Energy said it will be spending $11.5 million to study risks that offshore wind development may pose to birds, bats, and marine mammals, as well as survey changes in commercial fish and marine invertebrate populations at an offshore wind site on the East coast. The Department of Energy will also be spending $2 million on visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds at potential wind sites on the West coast.
2021 has already been a busy year for offshore wind permitting. In May, DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which is the lead permitting agency for offshore wind development, issued a Record of Decision for the Vineyard Wind 1 Offshore Wind Energy Project, located off the coast of Massachusetts, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) air quality permit for the project in June. BOEM also completed its Environmental Impact Statement for the South Fork Wind Energy Project, located near New York and Rhode Island, in August, and EPA issued a revised draft OCS air quality permit in October for the same project. DOI is in the process of reviewing several additional offshore wind projects, including the Ocean Wind project off the coast of New Jersey, which has a total capacity of 1,100 megawatts, enough to power 500,000 homes across the state.
Given the Biden Administration’s emphasis on transitioning to renewable energy, new developments in this area will remain in the public spotlight. Due to the general lack of offshore wind permitting prior to the Biden Administration, there will be many novel legal questions related to permitting requirements that will arise over the course of future offshore wind farm permit applications. Therefore, it is important for stakeholders, such as utilities, developers, and investors, to monitor the upcoming draft permits from BOEM, EPA, and other federal agencies in order to remain apprised of, and potentially comment on, the government’s interpretations and implementation of the applicable laws and regulations pertaining to offshore wind permitting.