The use of wind to generate electricity for the United States has been thrust forward with the largest-ever offering by the federal government of offshore development rights.
Three days of bidding, which ended Friday, for the 197,000 hectares of the New York Bight — an area of shallow waters between the coasts of Long Island (in New York state) and the state of New Jersey — attracted record-setting prices, according to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“This week’s offshore wind sale makes one thing clear: the enthusiasm for the clean energy economy is undeniable and it’s here to stay,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland in a statement after the auction concluded.
Europe is much further along than North America in developing lease areas for offshore wind farms.
There are two small offshore wind facilities in the United States off the coasts of the states of Rhode Island and Virginia. Two more commercial-scale projects were recently approved for development.
“We're really just at the beginning of a process here. We hope to apply the lessons learned from Europe and take advantage of the cost savings achieved in Europe,” said Fred Zalcman, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, speaking with VOA.
Officials say turbines erected in the set of six leases that went up for bidding Wednesday could eventually provide power for nearly 2 million residences. It was the first auction conducted during the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
Friday’s top provisional final bids totaled nearly $4.4 billion. The largest single lease area offered – totaling nearly 51,000 hectares and located about 50 kilometers off the New Jersey coast — attracted a record-busting $1.1 billion bid.
The previous auction was held in 2018 during the administration of former President Donald Trump. It was considered a success, with three leases off the coast of the state of Massachusetts bringing in a collective record-breaking $405 million for rights to develop 158,000 hectares south of Martha’s Vineyard, with a potential generating capacity of more than 4.1 gigawatts, enough to supply power to about 1.5 million homes.
Trump, a Republican, repeatedly expressed, at best, skepticism toward wind as a viable renewable source to supply America’s energy needs. He derided “windmills,” saying he had been told the noise from their blades “causes cancer” and “it’s like a graveyard for birds.”
Biden, a Democrat, has veered in a different direction, embracing wind as part of his clean energy ambitions and setting a goal of 30 gigawatts of capacity in the United States by the year 2030.
In his first week in office in 2021, Biden signed an executive order to expand opportunities for the offshore wind industry, predicting, according to the White House, the projects “will create good-paying union jobs” and “spawn new supply chains that stretch into America’s heartland.”
The area included in the ongoing auction, which began with 25 qualified bidders, was cut back by about one-fourth from what was initially proposed last year due to concerns about the potential impact on commercial fishing and military interests.
State and federal officials, according to Zalcman, have been addressing concerns of other ocean users, including recreational and commercial fishers, navigators and the shipping industry, and taking into consideration visual impacts to coastal communities, and concerns of environmental groups about migratory species, such as the North Atlantic Right Whale.
A group of residents of the New Jersey summer colony of Long Beach last month sued BOEM over the New York Bight leasing plans, contending the massive wind farm would permanently mar their beautiful view from the beach, hurt the area’s tourism economy and harm property values.
Bob Stern, the president of Save Long Beach Island, told VOA on Wednesday that the organization “is not opposed to offshore wind energy but believes that the federal government’s process of selecting ocean areas for turbine placement is flawed.”
Stern explained that the group’s lawsuit challenges the federal government agency’s selection of “wind energy areas” for offshore wind turbines which “should have been preceded and supported by a structured regional environmental impact statement process with full disclosure of impacts and public input.”
The Sierra Club is calling the New York Bight auction a historic major stride forward for clean energy.
“This lease sale is the first to include stipulations setting out responsibilities for project developers to report on their engagement with stakeholders to minimize conflicting uses, negotiation of project labor agreements, and the development of offshore wind-related manufacturing and supply chain services,” said Allison Considine, a senior campaign representative of the national environmental organization.
A preeminent concern is ensuring that these projects are done responsibly, said Zalcman of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, of which the Sierra Club is a member.
How developers configure the wind farms will be subject to another rigorous round of environmental review before they are able to erect the huge structures.
The federal government plans as many as seven additional lease sales by 2025, including offshore the Carolinas and California later this year, to be followed by lease sales for the Central Atlantic, Gulf of Maine, the Gulf of Mexico, and offshore Oregon.