Home Technology US Offshore Wind Farms Are Being Strangled With Red Tape

US Offshore Wind Farms Are Being Strangled With Red Tape


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

America’s first large-scale offshore wind farms began sending power to the Northeast in early 2024, but a wave of wind farm project cancellations and rising costs have left many people with doubts about the industry’s future in the US.

Several big hitters, including Ørsted, Equinor, BP, and Avangrid, have canceled contracts or sought to renegotiate them in recent months. Pulling out meant the companies faced cancellation penalties ranging from $16 million to several hundred million dollars per project. It also resulted in Siemens Energy, the world’s largest maker of offshore wind turbines, anticipating financial losses in 2024 of around $2.2 billion.

Altogether, projects that had been canceled by the end of 2023 were expected to total more than 12 gigawatts of power, representing more than half of the capacity in the project pipeline.

So, what happened, and can the US offshore wind industry recover?

I lead the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Wind-Energy Science, Technology, and Research (WindSTAR) and Center for Energy Innovation, and follow the industry closely. The offshore wind industry’s troubles are complicated, but it’s far from dead in the US, and some policy changes may help it find firmer footing.

A Cascade of Approval Challenges

Getting offshore wind projects permitted and approved in the US takes years and is fraught with uncertainty for developers, more so than in Europe or Asia.

Before a company bids on a US project, the developer must plan the procurement of the entire wind farm, including making reservations to purchase components such as turbines and cables, construction equipment, and ships. The bid must also be cost-competitive, so companies have a tendency to bid low and not anticipate unexpected costs, which adds to financial uncertainty and risk.

The winning US bidder then purchases an expensive ocean lease, costing in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But it has no right to build a wind project yet.

Before starting to build, the developer must conduct site assessments to determine what kind of foundations are possible and identify the scale of the project. The developer must consummate an agreement to sell the power it produces, identify a point of interconnection to the power grid, and then prepare a construction and operation plan, which is subject to further environmental review. All of that takes about five years, and it’s only the beginning.

For a project to move forward, developers may need to secure dozens of permits from local, tribal, state, regional, and federal agencies. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which has jurisdiction over leasing and management of the seabed, must consult with agencies that have regulatory responsibilities over different aspects in the ocean, such as the armed forces, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as groups including commercial and recreational fishing, Indigenous groups, shipping, harbor managers, and property owners.

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