Floating sale hops offshore wind power in US waters

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Tuesday marks the first-ever US lease auction for a commercial-scale, deep-water floating wind farm development off the West Coast.

The live online auction of the five leases – three off the central coast of California and two off the northern coast – attracted strong interest and 43 companies from around the world were approved to bid. The wind turbines will float about 25 miles offshore.

The growth of offshore wind comes as climate change intensifies and the need for clean energy grows. It also got cheaper. The cost of developing offshore wind has fallen by 60% since 2010 According to the July report by the International Renewable Energy Agency. It’s down 13% in 2021 alone.

Offshore wind is well established in the UK and some other countries but is just beginning to gain momentum off the coast of America, and this is the nation’s first foray into floating wind turbines. The auctions so far were for those anchored to the bottom of the sea.

Europe has some floating offshore wind — a project in the North Sea has been in the works since 2017 — but the potential for the technology is huge in areas of strong winds off America’s coast, said Josh Kaplowitz, vice president of offshore wind at American Clean Power. organisation.

“We know this works. We know this can save a significant part of our electricity needs, and if we want to solve the climate crisis, we need to put as many clean electrons online as possible, especially given the surge in demand for electric vehicles, ” He said. “We can only achieve our greenhouse gas targets with offshore wind as part of the puzzle.”

Similar auctions are in the works off the Oregon coast next year and in the Gulf of Maine in 2024. President Joe Biden has set a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 using conventional technology that secures wind turbines to the ocean floor, enough to power 10 million homes. Then management announced plans in September To develop floating platforms that could greatly expand US offshore wind.

The nation’s first offshore wind farm opened off the coast of Rhode Island in late 2016, allowing residents of the small Block Island to shut down five diesel generators. Wind advocates take note, but with five turbines, this isn’t a commercial range.

Globally, as of 2021, only 123 megawatts of floating offshore wind capacity was operating, but that number is expected to increase to nearly 19 gigawatts – 150 times – by 2030, According to a report Last week by Offshore Wind California.

The California sale is designed to strengthen the local supply chain and create union jobs. Bidders can convert a portion of their bids into credits that benefit those affected by wind development – local communities, tribes and commercial fishermen.

As envisioned, the turbines—perhaps about as high as the Eiffel Tower—would float on giant triangular platforms the size of a small city block or floating cylinders with cables anchoring them underwater. Each will have three blades longer than the distance from home plate to the field on a baseball diamond, and will need to be assembled on the beach and towed, upright, to its destination open in the ocean.

Modern, tall turbines, whether onshore or offshore, can produce more than 20 times more electricity than, say, shorter machines since the early 1990s.

As for visibility, “In absolutely perfect conditions, crystal clear on the best of days, at the highest point, you might be able to see little dots on the horizon,” said Larry Oetker, executive director of the Port of Humboldt Bay, the county rationalization and recreation that the deepwater port is equipped with for projects. .

Offshore wind is a good complement to solar energy, which stops at night. Winds farther out to sea are stronger and more sustainable, and they pick up in the evening, just when the solar power stops working but demand is high, said Jim Berger, a partner at the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright who specializes in financing renewable energy projects.

California has a 2045 goal for carbon neutrality. “When the sun is out, we rely more on fossil fuel generation,” Berger said. “These projects are huge, so when you add one or two projects, you add significantly to the state’s power generation base,” he said.

The leaseholds have the potential to generate 4.5 gigawatts of power – enough for 1.5m homes – and could make significant changes to communities in the rural coastal areas closest to the leaseholds.

In remote Humboldt County, in Northern California, outdoor projects are expected to generate more than 4,000,000 jobs and $38 million in state and local tax revenue in a region that has been in depression since the decline of the lumber industry in the 1970s and 1980s. , according to the Port of Humboldt Bay, Conservation and Recreation Area.

Oetker, the district’s executive director, said the district has already received $12 million from California to prepare its deepwater port for the potential assembly of the massive turbines, which are too high to fit under most bridges as they are towed out to sea.

He said, “We have hundreds of acres of vacant and wholly undeveloped industrial property rights on the existing navigation channel…and no flyovers or power lines or anything.”

But some are also wary of the projects, despite favoring the transition to clean energy.

Environmentalists worry about the impacts on threatened and endangered whales, which could become entangled in the cables that will stabilize the turbines. There are also concerns of birds and bats colliding with turbine blades and whales crashing into ships towing components to the site. Christine Heslop, senior director of the marine program at the Environmental Defense Center, said federal regulators have capped the boat speed for the project below 12 mph to address this concern.

“Floating offshore wind is quite new and there are only two projects in the world and we don’t know how this will affect our coast,” she said.

Tribes in the vast coastal regions are also concerned about damage to their ancestral lands from turbine assembly plants and transportation infrastructure. They fear that on clear days the farms are visible from the sacred places of prayer high in the mountains.

Frankie Myers, vice president of the Yurok Tribe, has attended four wind developer conferences in the past year. He said the tribes worked with the Office of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees the leasing process, to secure a 5% bid credit that would include tribal communities for the first time. He said the agency also helped with the cultural assessment of the potential impact on views from sacred places of prayer.

The tribes are very involved now, early on, because they are used to outside industries coming at them with unfulfilled promises. He said they saw things wrong, and knowing this windswept area so closely, they wanted it done right.

“Before they even showed us the map, before they even showed us all their details … we were like, ‘We know exactly where it’s going,’” Myers said. “There’s no question where the best winds come from, we all understand that. We’ve been here for two thousand years.”

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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about the AP’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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