The Biden administration will seek to add deep-water offshore wind energy, a developing technology that isn’t yet widely used, to its mix of renewable energy sources, administration leaders said Thursday.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters on a White House call that their departments would advance efforts to increase capacity and bring down costs of floating offshore wind platforms that produce power over deep seas.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an Interior Department agency, will make specific siting decisions later, Haaland said. But the administration is targeting areas off the coast of Oregon and California and in the Gulf of Maine on the East Coast.

The most promising Oregon site is near Coos Bay in the southern part of the state, said Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who was also on the call. 

Existing offshore wind turbines are situated in shallow coastal areas and secured directly to the ocean floor, White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy said on the press call. Developing technology for floating platforms to harness wind in deeper waters would unleash much more potential energy, the officials said.

Including deep-water areas, offshore wind could reach a capacity more than double existing U.S. electricity demand, Granholm said. But about two-thirds of that potential capacity is in deep-water areas, according to a DOE fact sheet. Those areas currently produce virtually zero energy worldwide.

$50 million to be spent

The Energy Department will spend nearly $50 million on efforts to develop deep-water offshore wind.

Most of that funding, $31 million, will go to the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to develop floating platform technology.

Energy will also fund a $6.85 million prize competition for engineers to design floating platforms that are optimized for wide-scale domestic manufacturing and commercialization, according to a White House fact sheet.

Another $3 million from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year would be used to develop modeling tools to help design commercial-scale floating offshore wind farms.

And nearly $1 million in infrastructure law spending would be used for a West Coast ports analysis to see where upgrades would be needed to deploy floating offshore wind power.

Part of the department’s goal is to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind by more than 70%.

“DOE is all in on making floating offshore wind a real part of our energy mix,” Granholm told reporters.

Power for 5 million homes

The Interior Department set a goal of reaching 15 gigawatts from deep-water wind sources by 2035, Haaland said. That would be enough power for 5 million homes, she said.

Biden has already committed to seeking 30 gigawatts from all offshore wind by 2030 as part of his goal to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by that year.

“Our goals are ambitious, but they are absolutely necessary,” Haaland said Thursday. “We can meet them when we partner innovation with resources and ambition. Nowhere is that more evident than the opportunity of floating wind.” 

Community outreach

The Oregon governor urged the federal leaders to collaborate with coastal communities and industries when building offshore wind infrastructure.

Oregon has long been committed to increasing renewable energy capacity, but increasing offshore wind energy must be balanced with the needs of local communities and industries, Brown said.

Asked about a congressional push to overhaul federal permitting requirements for energy projects, McCarthy said the administration would be careful in siting selections and in deployment of offshore wind, but also that the administration wanted to get through permitting “as quickly as possible.”

“That includes making sure that the sites that we pick and the turbine installations are done in a way that protects the species in our environment,” she said. “But also in a way that as quickly as we can delivers the kind of clean energy that our country needs and is looking forward to.”

Members of both chambers are working on passing legislation this month that would update what critics say are overlong processes for winning federal approval of energy projects.

Proponents of the changes say that several energy sources, including wind and solar, would benefit from a more streamlined process.

But House progressives and other environmental advocates have said changes could weaken protections and give communities less power to challenge energy projects.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Jacob Fischler covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.