Winds of Change? Offshore Projects Face Challenges

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There is growing interest in proposals for massive offshore wind projects both on the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico that could ultimately displace significant gas demand. But the challenges to building and operating such megaprojects loom large. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) recently announced the state’s first-ever targets for offshore wind energy development as part of an executive order. Cooper's goal is to push the state’s greenhouse gas emissions down by 70% below 2005 levels by 2030. Currently, North Carolina uses gas, coal, and nuclear power to generate most of its electricity and is now planning to add offshore wind to its portfolio. Included in the state’s targets is a commitment of the development of 2.8 gigawatts of offshore wind projects by 2030 and 8 GW by 2040, or enough turbines to power 2.3 million homes. This compares with Virginia's goal to install 5.2 GW of offshore wind power by 2034 and New Jersey's goal to install 7.5 GW by 2035. The executive order establishes the NC Task Force for Offshore Wind Economic Resource Strategies, or NC TOWERS, an effort led by the state Department of Commerce to boost offshore wind economic development efforts. Cooper is also calling for quarterly meetings of the NC Offshore Wind Interagency Task Group. Federal Push The Biden administration announced last week that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to develop offshore wind farms in shallow waters between Long Island and New Jersey as part of its push to transition the US to renewable energy. President Joe Biden has set a goal of generating 30,000 megawatts of electricity in the US from offshore wind by 2030, and the federal government is also making available $3 billion in loan guarantees for offshore wind projects and $500 million for improvements at ports that will help service these projects. The proposed sale will include eight lease areas in the New York Bight, which is a triangular area in the Atlantic Ocean between Cape May in New Jersey and Montauk Point on the eastern tip of Long Island. Administration officials estimated wind turbines there could generate about 7 GW of electricity, which can power more than 2.6 million homes. The Biden administration gave final approval to the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard last month, an 800 MW project slated to become operational in 2023 (NGW May17'21). The White House also has said it would open California’s coast to wind farms and also examine whether to bring wind farms to the Gulf of Mexico. Tall Order? "Large offshore wind projects will take a longer time than the average onshore wind project to go through the interconnection process due to the scale and novelty of offshore projects in the US," BTU Analytics Energy Analyst Trevor Fugita told Energy Intelligence. Fugita explained that independent system operators (ISOs) must study how a project will impact their entire system, and the size of these wind projects means that these impacts will be far-reaching. Beyond the collection substation and related lines needed, other upgrades will be needed to the existing onshore electrical infrastructure. This is typical for any new projects being built, but the scale for offshore wind will likely lead to increased complexity. "When state governments put out request for powers for offshore wind, they most likely do not understand the complexity of the undertaking," Fugita said. "However, the ISOs would. And in the end, it is the ISOs, through the generation interconnection process, that will determine what exactly would be needed to maintain reliability on their system." Lisa Lawson, Houston

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