The Biden administration will seek to approve more than a dozen offshore wind projects in the next four years and open the Pacific Ocean off California to such development as it seeks to bolster the nascent U.S. industry, officials said on Tuesday.
The effort is part of the administration’s broader plan to fight climate change by decarbonizing the U.S. power sector by 2035 and the entire economy by 2050.
Amanda Lefton, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told the Reuters U.S. Offshore Wind conference that the agency would complete the review of at least 16 new offshore wind project plans by 2025.
The projects could add as much as 19 gigawatts of clean power to the U.S. grid, Lefton said, putting the nation well on its way to meeting President Joe Biden's goal to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind energy - enough to power 10 million homes - by 2030.
The White House also announced that it had identified two areas off the coast of California for offshore wind development, a critical milestone in expanding the industry to Pacific waters. It plans to auction a lease in one of those areas in the middle of 2022.
"Now we are thinking big and thinking bold," White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said on a call with reporters.
Projects off the California coast would use floating turbines, an emerging technology, because of the depth of the outer continental shelf in the Pacific, the administration said. Small floating wind projects exist off the coasts of Scotland and Portugal and several larger facilities are underway in Europe.
Floating wind farms are more expensive to develop than those that are fixed to the seabed. The U.S. Department of Energy has invested more than $100 million in research and development of the technology, the administration said.
The two California areas, one 20 miles off the central coast near Morro Bay and another off Humboldt County near the Oregon border, could eventually be home to 4.6 gigawatts of offshore wind projects, enough to power 1.6 million homes, officials said.
The projects will assist California, which has among the most aggressive climate change policies in the nation, in its goal to remove fossil fuels from its power grid by 2045.
"It's only fitting that California is totally unwilling to let the expansion that we are witnessing on the east coast leave California behind," McCarthy said.
Once finalized in the coming weeks, the two areas will undergo environmental analysis to determine the areas most suitable for leasing.
Interior earlier in May approved the nation's first commercial-scale offshore wind farm, the Vineyard Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts. With just two small offshore wind facilities, the United States is decades behind Europe in developing the technology.
The ocean energy management bureau has leased 1.7 million acres of the U.S. outer continental shelf for offshore wind development, with 17 commercial leases on the Atlantic coast, and expects to hold a new lease sale off the coast of New York by the end of this year or the beginning of 2022.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Nichola Groom; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Nick Zieminski and Cynthia Osterman)