A Message from BOEM's Acting Director: The Path Forward for Offshore Wind Leasing on the Outer Continental Shelf

Release Date

Contact: Stephen Boutwell

What is BOEM’s overall offshore wind leasing strategy? This is a question that is frequently asked during the many wind events in which we participate.

The demand for offshore wind energy has never been greater. Plummeting costs, technological advances, skyrocketing demand and great economic potential have all combined to make offshore wind a highly promising avenue for adding to a diversified national energy portfolio. The U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) provides a world-class wind resource on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

At the same time, BOEM recognizes that the ocean is already a very busy place, and so we must consider other uses, such as commercial and recreational fishing, vessel traffic, and military mission needs, in addition to important environmental considerations. This is why engaging stakeholders – including federal, state and local agencies, fishing communities, and the public – throughout our processes is such an essential part of our renewable energy program.

BOEM has 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind development that could support more than 21 gigawatts of generating capacity. The first commercial scale offshore wind facility on the OCS could be under construction as early as this year. 

Offshore wind is an abundant domestic energy resource located close to major coastal load centers, providing an alternative to long-distance transmission or development of (onshore) electricity generation in these land-constrained regions. Successfully harnessing this natural, renewable resource will require:

  • Reducing potential conflicts with other uses of the ocean and seabed.
  • Identifying, avoiding or mitigating environmental impacts.
  • Developing a reliable supply chain for the industry. 

Achieving these objectives is critical for the continued development of the existing pipeline of projects and expanding lease offerings on both the Atlantic and Pacific OCS.

Executive Order 13783, issued March 28, 2017, establishes the federal policy of promoting clean and safe development of domestic energy resources, including renewable energy, to ensure national security and provide affordable, reliable, safe, secure, and clean energy. BOEM is uniquely positioned to guide future offshore wind development in the United States and significantly contribute to the nation's energy portfolio.

In April of 2018, BOEM developed and sought feedback on a Proposed Path Forward for Future Offshore Renewable Energy Leasing on the Atlantic OCS (83 FR 14881). The Atlantic Coast offshore wind assessment tool was developed to assist in planning where future offshore renewable energy leasing may occur. This tool uses a combination of positive and exclusionary factors to evaluate the potential for wind energy development on the entire Atlantic OCS.  BOEM received multiple comments on the Request for Feedback about the Proposed Path Forward (which were incorporated into an updated assessment that can be found on BOEM’s website at: https://www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Path-Forward/). The major topics included: fisheries, marine traffic, DoD use areas, and state-specific renewable energy incentives. BOEM has adopted a similar assessment to identify potential leasing areas on the Pacific OCS.  We will continue to work hard to balance the needs of all of our stakeholders through extensive and continuous engagement efforts into the future.

Employing a Regional Approach

BOEM believes that predictability in its planning and leasing process provides a benefit to the development of the offshore wind energy industry. As a result of this initial effort and analysis of the comments received, BOEM has identified the following forecast areas and will be moving forward with leasing using a regional approach, processing projects currently in the pipeline, and pursuing leasing activities as follows:

  • Gulf of Maine. On January 2, 2019, BOEM received a letter from the Governor of New Hampshire requesting the establishment of an Intergovernmental Task Force.  Although the State of Maine and Commonwealth of Massachusetts have not yet expressed interest in promoting development in this area, BOEM believes that the establishment of a regional task force for the Gulf of Maine area that includes Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts governmental members will support further dialogue and collaboration on offshore wind matters affecting shared natural, socioeconomic, and cultural resources on a regional scale.
  • Southern New England. There are currently seven active offshore wind energy leases in this area, totaling 902,391 acres. BOEM believes the current level of leasing is sufficient to meet the renewable energy goals established by the states in the region. Therefore, BOEM will continue to service the existing leases offshore Southern New England until there is additional interest from either the states or the offshore wind industry.

In regards to regional fisheries science, in 2019 BOEM and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will enter into a cooperative agreement to begin regional fisheries studies that have been identified as priorities by the fishing industry.

  • New York Bight. In 2017, BOEM established the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force for the New York Bight to ensure that future leasing off the coasts of New York and New Jersey properly consider and address regional concerns. Given the ambitious renewable energy goals established by the leadership of both states and the possibility for interconnection to both states, BOEM anticipates leasing additional areas in the New York Bight over time, pending completion of the Area Identification process later this year. BOEM refers to such areas as “Wind Energy Areas (WEAs).” These areas appear to be most suitable for commercial wind energy activities, while presenting the fewest apparent environmental and user conflicts.
  • Mid-Atlantic Seaboard. Delaware and Maryland have expressed interest in identifying additional WEAs. BOEM will continue to work with both Intergovernmental Task Forces to further evaluate leasing opportunities in each state.
  • VANC. Both the Commonwealth of Virginia and State of North Carolina expressed interest in identifying additional WEAs for potential future offshore wind leasing.  According to BOEM’s analysis, both states have potential for offshore wind energy development and BOEM will work with the Intergovernmental Task Forces in this region to further evaluate leasing opportunities.
  • Carolina Long Bay. BOEM has combined the planning and leasing process for the WEAs located offshore Wilmington, North Carolina and the “Call Areas” located offshore South Carolina to follow a similar regional model found in the areas to the North. (Call Areas are identified by BOEM prior to the Area Identification phase as areas that may be made available for future leasing, based on industry interest in acquiring commercial wind leases and additional information developed on the suitability of the areas.) Moving forward, recognizing that the offshore wind industry has evolved in recent years, BOEM will work with both North and South Carolina using a regional model to plan and analyze potential future offshore wind leasing in the Carolinas. We expect to establish WEAs later this year.
  • California. BOEM issued a Call for Information and Nominations to assess industry interest for three Call Areas on October 19, 2018. We have received over 100 comments and 14 nominations from developers for all three of these areas. We are reviewing the comments and nominations received and will continue to consult with the State of California and federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, to inform our decision to offer all or part of the Call Areas for commercial wind leasing. We anticipate conducting a sale in 2020.
  • Oregon. BOEM is processing a research lease request for a wave energy testing facility in Oregon and cooperating with FERC, which has the licensing authority for marine hydrokinetic projects. BOEM is convening an Oregon Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force in the fall of 2019 to explore the possibility of future offshore wind development.
  • Hawai'i. BOEM issued a Call for Information and Nominations in 2016 for two Call Areas offshore Oahu. BOEM continues to work closely with the state and the Department of Defense to identify areas appropriate for leasing for future wind development offshore Hawai'i.

More Regional Considerations

Enhanced Stakeholder Cooperation BOEM continues to engage with our Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Forces, stakeholder groups, and the public, and we encourage establishing mechanisms to make that engagement more effective.  A recent example is BOEM’s partnership with the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service to underscore our commitment to consider local and regional fishing interests in the offshore wind process, identify the most effective ways to bring fishing industry expertise and information into planning and development phases, and to develop a collaborative regional research and monitoring framework to ensure decisions are based on the best available science. We invite any of our stakeholders to meet with us to discuss more effective means of engagement.

Floating Technology Today’s offshore wind facilities are predominantly made up of monopile or jacket foundations. However, technology is rapidly advancing to the point where the industry could see the commercialization of floating foundations in the offshore wind market in the near future. In our original assessment efforts for the Atlantic, we considered areas shallower than 60m as a positive factor given the conventional “bottom-founded” technology that is limited to this depth. In response to the Request for Feedback about the Proposed Path Forward, we received multiple requests to assess deeper waters to consider floating turbine technology.  As a result of comments received and the anticipated technological advancements, BOEM plans to further explore this exciting new possibility on the Atlantic coast through a whitepaper and workshop on deep water development in early 2020.

Transmission As we near the construction and operations phase of several offshore wind projects, the topic of power transmission becomes increasingly important. There are multiple technical, environmental, economic, policy and regulatory questions that need to be addressed as an industry. In addition, due to the regional nature of offshore wind projects, transmission will impact multiple states, each with their own regulatory frameworks and priorities. 

Under BOEM’s current regulations, a lease grants the lessee the right to one or more project easements for the purpose of installing transmission. In the future, BOEM anticipates receiving right of way requests from companies seeking to construct offshore grid connection networks. BOEM will continue to work with all of our stakeholders as we evaluate the viability of these alternative transmission models and ensure their compatibility with shared ocean uses.

The Bottom Line

Our continued support of a robust and sustainable offshore wind energy industry in the United States will require a thorough understanding of the drivers that make an area more or less suitable for development. This process must be informed by continued feedback from our stakeholders as well as additional research to understand the potential for environmental and socio-economic impacts. 

We look forward to working with all these groups and others to ensure BOEM has the most recent and best available information to make informed decisions while implementing an all-of-the-above energy strategy.