President Joe Biden Approves Nation's First Major Offshore Wind Farm

Block Island Wind Farm turbines located off the coast of Rhode Island.
Turbines on the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island.
Photo: Scott Eisen (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Biden administration officially green-lit the country’s largest offshore wind farm. It’s slated to be installed off the coast of Massachusetts and is the first step in President Joe Biden’s ambitious push to finally get the U.S. in the offshore wind game.

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Comprised of up to 84 turbines split between two locations—one near the Martha’s Vineyard coast and one closer to Nantucket—the $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind project is expected to generate 800 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power some 400,000 homes.

The farm is jointly controlled and operated by two energy firms, Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. It was first conceived in 2009 and has been in the process of federal permitting for more than three years, facing delays due to both the pandemic and concerns from commercial fisheries. With the federal permitting approved, it’s now expected to start supplying power by as soon as 2023. Vineyard Wind will be the first commercial-scale wind farm in the U.S.

The nation’s capacity for offshore wind energy production is massive. According to federal data, offshore wind could generate more than 2,000 gigawatts of energy, which is almost nearly double the nation’s current total electricity use.

Despite the promise, leaders have been slow to harness the potential. Currently, the nation is home to two offshore wind farms, comprised of just seven wind turbines near Rhode Island and Virginia. Together, they produce less than 50 megawatts of generation capacity. The federal approval of Vineyard Wind could start to change that, contributing to achieving the Biden administration’s goal of producing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030.

The project also jibes with the administration’s linking of climate action and job creation. The White House estimates that the project will create about 3,600 jobs (its offshore wind plan calls for creating 77,000 direct jobs in offshore wind by the end of the decade).

“A clean energy future is within our grasp in the U.S.,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in a White House statement. “The approval of this project is an important step toward advancing the Administration’s goals to create good-paying union jobs while combatting climate change and powering our nation. Today is one of many actions we are determined to take to open the doors of economic opportunity to more Americans.”

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The signs that the U.S. is ready for offshore wind are everywhere. Late last year, Rep. Raul Grijalva introduced a bill that would set a goal of 25 gigawatts of domestic offshore wind energy production by 2030. In 2018, the Trump administration—yes, you read that right—held the country’s largest offshore wind auction ever, leasing three tracts of ocean off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Plans for more than a dozen other offshore wind farms are in earlier stages of approval, which together could bring about 20 gigawatts of electricity online if they get the official signoff. Seven coastal states have also set offshore wind targets of their own that together, if achieved, would bring 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power online by 2035. The U.S. is one small corner of a boom in renewable energy. While the covid-19 pandemic has put a damper on economic interest in other energy industries, research shows that’s not the case for offshore wind.

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This isn’t to say offshore wind expansion won’t face challenges. There will be political opposition from rich NIMBY skeptics. There will be design difficulties. And there’s the looming threat of the shortage of rare Earth minerals that are necessary for the construction of turbines. (Extracting those minerals also have some issues.) But it’s clearer than ever that we need to stop using fossil fuels to power the world, and now is the right time to jump headfirst into tackling those issues on in order to usher in a national offshore wind revolution.

Earther staff writer. Blogs about energy, animals, why we shouldn't trust the private sector to solve the climate crisis, etc. Has an essay in the 2021 book The World We Need.

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jackj
Jack Jones

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