The US is set to transform its power game – as well as its coastlines. Speaking at a wind power industry conference on Wednesday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland outlined a plan to develop seven offshore wind farms along nearly the entire coastline of the continental US. The plan would allow for a major increase in current offshore power capacity, and could, White House officials say, reduce the country’s carbon emissions by as much as 78 million tons.
"The Interior 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," announced Haaland. "We have big goals to achieve a clean energy economy and Interior is meeting the moment."
If the US is going to fully decarbonize its power grid by 2050 as planned, it’s going to have to up its game: at the moment, renewables make up barely more than one-fifth of the country’s electricity sources. Wind power leads the charge among the eco-friendly power options, single-handedly contributing about two-fifths of that figure – but so far, the wind farms responsible have mostly been found onshore.
Elsewhere in the world, in places like Europe and China, wind turbines are found way out at sea, where the gusts are more constant and powerful, and farms can grow to massive sizes without drawing the ire of "not in my back yard" protestors. But the US has lagged behind: so far, the country has just two small offshore wind farms, capable of supplying just 0.04 percent of the national power demand, with the first large offshore farm approved only this year.
That should be set to change, though. Earlier this year, the White House released a plan to massively scale up the amount of offshore wind generation: the goal is for the creation of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity – about a 750-fold increase – by the end of the decade. That figure, according to the project fact sheet, would then need to more than triple again in the next decades, rising to 110 gigawatts by 2050.
Those are the aims, but so far there have been scant details on how to get there. This week’s announcement puts some much-needed meat on the bones of the plan: Haaland confirmed the Department’s aims to lease federal waters in the Gulfs of Mexico and Maine, off the coasts of California and Oregon, and along almost the entire Atlantic coast to wind power developers by 2025.
"This timetable provides two crucial ingredients for success: increased certainty and transparency," she said. "Together, we will meet our clean energy goals while addressing the needs of other ocean users and potentially impacted communities."
"I look so forward to our future together, and to making so much progress that we will be unstoppable."
"I’ve been in the wind industry for a long time," said former Department of Energy assistant secretary Dan Reicher in the New York Times. "This is a repeat of what we did a couple of decades ago when we stepped up onshore wind, when it went from being a small niche source of energy to being a mainstream, affordable source of power."
"This is very big, big deal," he added. "This is a signal like we’ve never had before in the United States about where we can go with offshore wind."