Offshore wind turbines — those are the magical solution to all our energy problems. The wind is clean and free. And way out in the ocean — where you can barely even see the towers — the wind blows steadily almost all the time. Just put up a few turbines to catch the breezes, and those evil fossil fuels will quickly be banished.
Anyway, that has been the talk for at least three decades. After 30 years of talk, the number of actual functioning wind turbines out in the Atlantic Ocean off the U.S. coast is now exactly seven: five off Block Island (part of Rhode Island), and two off Virginia. Those provide some tiny fraction of 1% of the electricity for the mid-Atlantic states and New England.
But the Biden Administration has much grander plans. According to this May 2021 piece from the Institute for Energy Research, Biden’s “net zero” plans include the construction of “some 30,000 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity by 2030, the equivalent of 1,000 Block Island projects.”
30,000 megawatts. Wow, that’s a lot. Or is it? According to the American Public Power Association, as of February 2023 the U.S. had some 1.3 million megawatts of electricity generation capacity. So the 30,000 MW of new offshore wind would be an increment of something between 2 and 3% to existing nameplate capacity. And since wind turbines only function about 30-40% of the time (optimistically) when averaged over the year, the 30,000 new MW of capacity of offshore wind would really be equivalent to at most 9-12,000 MW of dispatchable generation, so will at best add about 1% to existing capacity, and even that at random times that would require backup to assure reliability.
But is the 30,000 MW of new offshore wind capacity even real? Yes, big subsidy numbers got put into the fraudulently-named “Inflation Reduction Act” of 2022 for the purpose of getting the offshore wind projects built. Lots of offshore wind projects in the mid-Atlantic and New England areas then got put up for bid, and contracts for construction of the turbines were issued. Can we get an update on that? Is anything actually getting built?
For New York, it appears that both in the run-up to, and immediately after enactment of the IRA, the state put a collection of projects up for bid. The agency running this show has the lengthy acronym of NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority). At their website, NYSERDA reports on the status of their efforts. The plan is for some 9,000 MW of offshore wind for New York alone, of which some “4,300 megawatts are under active development.” Here is an excerpt from NYSERDA’s excited narrative on the status on how it’s going:
In July 2022, New York State launched its third competitive solicitation, ORECRFP22-1, to procure at least 2,000 additional megawatts of offshore wind energy for New Yorkers. This solicitation comes on the heels of a record-setting auction by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for leases in the New York Bight in February 2022. . . . In the State’s second offshore wind procurement, NYSERDA selected two projects for contract negotiation: Empire Wind 2 and Beacon Wind of Equinor Wind US LLC. Together, these projects total nearly 2,500 megawatts, enough to power 1.3 million homes. . . . New York now has five offshore wind projects in active development – the largest offshore wind pipeline in the nation totaling more than 4,300 megawatts. . . .