By Irina Slav
Earlier this year, the Biden administration said it planned to build offshore wind power generation capacity to the tune of 30 GW by 2030, creating more than 44,000 direct jobs and close to 33,000 indirect ones. To date, the United States has wind power capacity of 118 GW. Of this, only 42 MW is offshore wind. And According to IHS Markit, the 30 GW additional capacity target will almost certainly be missed.
Last year, the United States set a record in wind power capacity additions, at 14.2 GW added during the pandemic year. That was a continuation of another strong year in 2019, which also set a record in wind power additions, according to data from the Energy Information Bureau. However, the reason for this boom in wind power generation capacity was not a simple response to greater demand for wind power. In fact, the reason for the records set in both 2019 and 2020 was the looming phase-out of the production tax credit, which spurred the mass deployment of wind and solar installations.
In December, Congress extended the production tax credit, which provided wind farm operators with a credit of $0.025 per kWh, until the end of this year. There are other incentives available to the wind industry, too. The biggest is the investment tax credit, which covers between 12 and 30 percent of investment costs at the start of the project. As of December, Congress has established a 30-percent investment tax credit for projects that start construction by December 2025.
So, with so much government help for the wind power industry, the 30 GW target in offshore wind should be a no-brainer. Yet, there are other factors at play besides government incentives and it is these factors, according to IHS Markit, that would make hitting the 30 GW target impossible.
For starters, the permitting process for offshore wind projects is lengthy and complicated, IHS Markit’s Andre Utkin wrote in a recent analysis of the topic. Then, there are not enough manufacturing facilities for the turbines, blades, and other equipment that goes into a utility-scale wind farm. The installation process is also tricky: per U.S. legislation, only U.S.-flagged vessels can sail along the country’s coasts. And there are not enough U.S.-flagged wind turbine installation and service vessels, according to IHS’s Utkin.
Then there is the issue of transmission infrastructure. This is insufficient to accommodate an additional 30 GW of wind power capacity, according to the research firm. The transmission infrastructure problem is a global one, by the way. Earlier this year, IHS’s Utkin reported that global offshore wind power capacity was set to expand sixfold by 2030 thanks to technological advances, cost reductions, and government incentives. However, he added, “the industry needs to rapidly develop and invest in new infrastructure to achieve these ambitious plans.”
Finally, there is a regulatory hurdle, albeit not an insurmountable one. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management tends to conduct lengthy investigations of the impacts of wind farm construction on the environment, which will also likely delay projects.
In all fairness, many of these challenges can be dealt with by legislators, a majority—although slim—of whom are clearly in favor of building the country’s offshore wind power capacity. Some, however, are trickier because they do not depend on favorable policies. One example is the cost of building the necessary transmission infrastructure.
The recent $550-billion bipartisan infrastructure deal struck between the Senate and the White House envisages $73 billion in funding for clean energy generation and transmission. Yet copper prices are rising, and the offshore wind takes massive amounts of copper for its infrastructure. The $73 billion might simply be not enough for that and modernizing the U.S. aging grid.