The U.S. now stands to have 13,902 MW of offshore wind capacity through 2027, according to an analysis of the emerging class of wind power projects.
The pipeline for the sector increased by more than 7,700 MW since S&P Global Market Intelligence last analyzed the data in October 2018. Two utility-scale offshore wind projects have been added to the pipeline:
In addition to the new projects, developers estimated commercial operation dates for about 5,200 MW of offshore wind capacity, while another 5,100 MW of capacity still has no estimated operation dates yet:
The increase in capacity under development comes as the federal and state governments, as well as the private sector, ramp up efforts to take down financial and regulatory barriers to mature the United States' growing offshore wind sector. The U.S. currently has one operating offshore wind project, the Block Island Offshore Wind Farm, but the country is in line to see a flurry of activity throughout the 2020s.
"Yes, we are behind Europe, but we're not going to be behind Europe for very long," said Dan Chorost, an environmental and commercial litigator with Sive, Paget & Riesel PC.
With existing turbine technology, the U.S. has an offshore wind technical potential of 2,000 GW, Chorost said during a Feb. 8 panel on offshore wind at an American Law Institute Continuing Legal Education event in Washington, D.C. But floating offshore wind turbines could open more U.S. waters to development where traditional fixed-bottom turbines are not suitable, such as deeper waters off the West Coast. Adding floating technologies would raise the country's offshore wind capacity technical potential to 11,000 GW.
The U.S. is "among the most blessed with offshore wind in the world," he said. There are three hot spots for offshore wind potential in the U.S.: the waters off California and Oregon, the Great Lakes region, and the mid-Atlantic and Eastern Seaboard, which "people in this region call this region the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind," Chorost added.
State clean energy targets in these regions will be instrumental to a burgeoning offshore wind economy. On the East Coast alone, states have committed to procuring more than 23,000 MW of offshore wind capacity. Separately, Rhode Island's 400-MW clean energy request for proposal makes offshore wind projects greater than 20 MW eligible, and Connecticut lawmakers are looking at procuring 2,000 MW of offshore wind capacity.
While state leaders can shape demand and determine how and when developers build wind farms, "state governments have no real power to create leases," Chorost said. That power lies with the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, which works with the states and the private sector on exploring lease creation.
"Developers can point to an area and say we want that … we will put that out there for competitive interest," said Joshua Kaplowitz, an attorney-adviser for the Interior Department.
Not only will coordination with federal regulators be crucial for offshore wind, but so will regulatory reform. Kaplowitz said BOEM is streamlining rulemaking for offshore wind projects based on the department's experience in the past few years from proposed U.S. projects and their counterparts in Europe. BOEM has started to test some of these new rules, such as allowing developers to use the project design envelop method, which allows companies to submit several design options for potential offshore wind farms in permit application.
The agency expects to come out with proposed rule changes in mid-2019, with final rules announced in early 2020.
"There will be a potpourri of changes," Kaplowitz said. "What's nice about a lot of this are things that we're cleaning up and making things easier" while not compromising on environmental regulations. Rather, it is about "recognizing inefficiencies because we didn't know as much about the industry."