US Govt proposes first-ever offshore wind lease sale in Gulf of Mexico

The US administration has proposed the first-ever offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. The current administration remains keen to encourage offshore wind deployment beyond the East Coast of the US.

The Biden-Harris administration has set a target of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030.

The Proposed Sale Notice (PSN)includes a 102,480-acre area offshore Lake Charles, Louisiana, and two areas offshore Galveston, Texas, one comprising 102,480 acres and the other comprising 96,786 acres.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said that it was seeking public comments on which, if any, of the two lease areas offshore Galveston should be offered in the Final Sale Notice.

The proposed farms would have the potential to power almost 1.3m homes with clean energy, according to Interior Department. The US frequently measures the size of proposed wind farms by the number of residential homes that theoretically they could power.

BOEM is seeking feedback on several lease stipulations that would reaffirm its commitment to create good-paying jobs and engage with ocean users and other stakeholders, the Interior Department said.

Some of these potential stipulations include bidding credits to bidders that commit to supporting workforce training programs for the offshore wind industry, developing a domestic supply chain for the offshore wind industry, or a combination of both.

The potential stipulations also include establishing and contributing to a fisheries compensatory mitigation fund, or contributing to an existing fund to mitigate potential negative impacts to commercial and for-hire recreational fisheries caused by offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lessees also could be required to provide a regular progress report summarizing engagement with Tribes and ocean users potentially affected by proposed offshore wind activities.

If the Department decides to proceed with the sale, BOEM will publish a Final Sale Notice at least 30 days ahead of the sale, which would announce the time and date of the lease sale and the companies qualified to participate in it.

Meanwhile, a New Jersey Republican Congressman, Jeff Van Drew, is arguing for a moratorium on offshore wind. Following the Republican Party’s capture of the House in the midterm elections late last year, Van Drew has been named Vice Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He has made it clear that he will use the position to press for a moratorium on offshore wind development. “Through this role, I will investigate the impacts offshore wind industrialization may have on our environment, maritime safety, and energy prosperity”, he said on being named to the vice chairmanship on February 2nd.

Van Drew was joined by Maryland Republican Representative Andy Harris in calling for an immediate halt of all offshore wind activity until proper investigations are held. They expressed particular concern for the fate of 14 whales that had washed ashore on the East Coast since December 1st.

Van Drew said that  “from the beginning, I have expressed my concerns and opposition with offshore windfarms moving forward without substantial evidence to show how it will affect our environment, our industries, and marine life”.

Attempts to link offshore wind development operations to dead whales washing up on the East Coast are not supported by the science.

National Ocean Industries President Erik Milito said that “claims linking the offshore wind industry to these deaths are misleading and not supported by the facts and evidence.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has noted that  the Atlantic Coast had been experiencing an unusual whale mortality event since at least 2016, well before offshore wind development was initiated in these areas. The NOAA has concluded that the leading causes of the whale deaths were entanglements and vessel strikes.”

On February 17th Van Drew announced that he would be holding a first hearing in South Jersey on March 16th on offshore wind projects being built off the coast of New Jersey.

He also said that he would be introducing legislation that places a moratorium on all existing projects and legislation that will prohibit all future projects.