Biden energy officials release strategy to boost offshore wind and cut its cost by 30%

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The Biden administration wants to create 30 gigawatts of offshore U.S. wind energy as soon as 2030 — enough to power more than 10 million homes.

The Energy Department said Wednesday it has a new strategy to meet the goal of expanding offshore wind — which, when combined with land-based wind turbines, solar, nuclear and other greener sources, is meant to reduce U.S. reliance on coal, oil and natural gas in coming years.

Burning fossil fuels for energy emits greenhouse gases, speeding up climate change as compared with the years before the Industrial Revolution. As the atmosphere warms, the U.S. has since 1980 sustained 341 intensifying weather and climate disasters for which the cost of damages reached or exceeded $1 billion. The total cost of these 341 events exceeds $2.480 trillion, adjusted based on inflation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That doesn’t include loss of life and other health effects.

The planned additional wind turbines would be anchored to the seafloor, the preferred and less expensive path for offshore wind energy. But for some coastal areas, such as for the U.S. Pacific Coast, where the ocean floor drops off considerably, the Biden administration wants to deploy another 15 gigawatts of floating wind turbines by 2035, enough to power 5 million homes.

Already, the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the U.S. is under construction off the coast of Massachusetts.

And last month, the Biden administration announced the first-ever lease sale for offshore wind power in the Gulf of Mexico, adding to wind-power plans up and down the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The Interior Department will open over 300,000 acres to wind in the gulf, which has long been dominated by fossil-fuel drilling via offshore rigs. The first sites will be off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm pledged in a statement Wednesday that offshore wind “will create tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs and revitalize coastal communities.”

The administration is attempting to lower the cost of fixed offshore wind by 30%, down to $51 per megawatt hour by 2030.

The Biden team also wants to establish the U.S. as a leader in floating offshore wind, it said, and to lower its cost by nearly 70%, to $45 per megawatt hour by 2035.

The industry and government supporters must also figure out how to bring large amounts of wind energy onto the U.S. power grid and distribute it to communities.

Work is also expected to advance the technologies that use offshore wind to produce hydrogen and clean fuels. Among other uses, those fuels can be used to make power even when the wind is not blowing, making what is now an intermittent clean source available around the clock.

By comparison, new onshore wind now costs about $46 per megawatt-hour, while large-scale solar plants cost $45 per megawatt-hour. In comparison, new coal-fired plants cost $74 per megawatt-hour, while gas plants are $81 per megawatt-hour, according to energy data and research firm BloombergNEF.

America’s wind-power resources, both onshore and offshore, have the technical potential to produce 40 million gigawatt-hours of electricity each year, equivalent to 11 times the amount of electricity used across the U.S. in 2020, the advocacy group Environment America has said.

Earlier this week, Brussels-based trade association Global Wind Energy Council in a report projected 680 gigawatts of new global onshore and offshore wind will be installed by 2027. That represents enough wind to power about 657 million homes annually.

The group said rising concern about climate change derived from burning fossil fuels, as well uncertainty around secure energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is pushing more nations to tap wind and regain some control over a market less dependent on Middle East oil or Russian natural gas. Some U.S. lawmakers have listed these same reasons in urging the U.S. to keep up domestic drilling for oil and gas.

As the wind announcement rolled out, Wednesday also marked the first oil-drilling license auction in more than a year. Interest is expected from major oil companies such as ExxonMobil
and Chevron

Additional fossil-fuel development was approved by the Biden administration as part of a congressional compromise to get a climate-heavy spending bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, approved last year.

Biden has appeased traditional energy interests and their bakcers, mostly Republican lawmakers, as well as energy-state Democrats such as West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, by keeping some new traditional energy production in the mix. But in doing so, he is ruffling the feathers of climate-minded voters. Environmental interests in particular were frustrated by this month’s federal approval of the huge Willow drilling project in protected areas of northern Alaska.

Developing the oil
and gas
leases for sale in public waters in the Gulf of Mexico could produce more than 1 billion barrels of oil and more than 4 trillion cubic feet (113 billion cubic meters) of natural gas over 50 years, according to a government analysis. Burning that oil would increase planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions by tens of millions of tons, the analysis found.

Oil futures prices, trading near $73 a barrel, are down more than 30% from where they stood a year ago. Declining prices make it less certain how much companies will be willing to invest in new leases. There’s one more lease sale scheduled in September, but it’s unknown how many more the administration could conduct, which could hinder companies’ expansion plans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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