Power from offshore wind energy will become an important and growing part of the US power supply going forward, and the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is doing everything it can to support that market with greater regulatory transparency, flexibility, and predictability.
Those were the themes advanced by Walter Cruickshank, Deputy Director—BOEM, who spoke at the Offshore Wind Executive Summit at the Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston in February.
Cruikshank said that BOEM is working to carry out President Trump’s “America First Offshore Energy Strategy,” which is designed to promote the safe and responsible development of domestic offshore energy resources on the US outer continental shelf.
He also said that the BOEM is working to ensure that American energy independence is maintained and long lasting, “and offshore wind is a key part of the strategy.”
“The demand for offshore wind has never been greater,” Cruikshank offered. “The technological advances, falling costs, aggressive state policies, and tremendous economic potential make this a very promising avenue for diversifying the nation’s energy portfolio. And it goes beyond just generating energy. There are number of other benefits as well.” He noted that a 2016 DOE study found that 80,000 offshore wind related jobs could be created by 2030, with the possibility of 180,000 jobs by 2050.
BOEM recognizes that it has a key role to play in the evolution and development of this market, Cruikshank said. Most notably, the agency will be working to reduce conflicts with other ocean industries; identifying and avoiding deleterious environmental impacts; and helping the industry develop a supply chain for this emerging market.
“Today, we have issued 1.7 million acres on the OCS for offshore wind development, and we have 15 active leases stretching from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras,” Cruikshank observed. “Today, we have approved eight site assessment plans and we are currently reviewing six construction and operations plans, and we anticipate receiving at least a half dozen more over the coming year.”
He noted that the Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project – the first offshore wind project approved by the BOEM – has been moving forward on schedule, and is expected to begin service this summer. The CVOW project calls for the installation of two 6-megawatt wind turbines some 27 mi off the coast of Virginia Beach.
“The industry has advanced much more rapidly than anyone expected just a few short years ago,” he observed. “This has been driven in large part by a dramatic increase in state-level interest in offshore wind, and we expect that interest to grow. That makes it all the more important for us, the Department of Interior and BOEM, to make sure that these first projects are done right. By that, I mean that these projects are designed and built so that offshore wind, commercial fishing, and the maritime navigation industries can all coexist successfully, and that there are no unexpected environmental consequences.”
Cruikshank also addressed the proposed Vineyard Wind project. Planned for a site offshore Massachusetts, Vineyard Wind will be the first large-scale commercial offshore wind project in US waters. “As such, we want to be sure that our decision on this project provide a solid foundation for the offshore wind industry going forward.”
He conceded that the permitting process on the project had not gone smoothly. After the BOEM issued a draft EIS on Vineyard Wind, the coastal states in the region started to become “very competitive,” with many more offshore wind power proposals.
“It became clear to us that we had not considered the full range of environmental impacts in the draft EIS,” Cruikshank conceded. “And it became clear that we needed a more robust analysis on the cumulative effects for offshore wind.”
BOEM also received a lot of new data on the possible impact to fisheries in the area, and the agency started working with the US Coast Guard and National Marine Fisheries to address and resolve all of these issues. In the end, a new supplemental draft EIS was needed.
The result has been delay for the Vineyard Wind project. “But the scenario we are now looking at covers all of the leases off southern New England, and once this is completed we will have strong foundation for all the projects being proposed.” The final EIS for Vineyard Wind is expected in late 2020.
At the same time, Cruikshank said that BOEM is working with the developers of other offshore wind projects, to efficiently process their reviews with minimal delays. He noted that there are a dozen projects being considered along the Atlantic states; all together they would bring an additional 27 gigawatts of additional power from offshore wind by 2030.
“Our strategy also includes establishing a more efficient and a more predictable regulatory process and pursuing a regional approach to permitting these projects,” he said.
“The key process we have is ‘one federal decision,’” Cruikshank noted. Established by the Trump administration, this process requires all federal agencies involved in the permitting of a project to work together and to produce a single EIS and a single federal decision on a project, and to do so in a reasonable timeframe. The process is also designed to provide greater transparency, predictability and timeliness in all offshore wind projects that are subject to federal regulations, he said.
BOEM is also working to make sure that the EIS and NEPA reports are completed within a 12-month timeframe, and to reduce the size of these documents, to emphasize the most important information. Previous such documents had been multiple volumes.
“Now, with these shorter and more concise documents, decision makers are reading the documents, and considering that information in their plans. And this what was really intended by NEPA in the first place.”
The agency is also working to offer greater flexibility in geotechnical survey requirements and greater flexibility in its financial assurance requirements.
Cruikshank also said that BOEM is working to increase predictability in the leasing schedule. He said that the agency recognized that such predictability is needed for continued future investment in the industry.
“The offshore wind and offshore oil and gas industries have many parallels,” he observed. “They share many of the same technologies and services, they both rely on highly skilled workforces, they are both important components of the administration’s energy strategy, and they both fall under BOEM oversight.”
“The hallmark of our approach is to try and find the right balance between protecting our coastal communities while allowing the United States to remain a global energy leader,” Cruikshank concluded. “Fortunately, at BOEM, we have a long history of helping to develop the nation’s energy needs while protecting the environment.” •