The United States has taken a significant step forward in its efforts to expand renewable energy sources by creating three new Wind Energy Areas (WEAs) in the Central Atlantic planning area. These WEAs are expected to hold up to 8GW of capacity, effectively meeting the surging demand for clean energy in the Mid-Atlantic region.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the lead regulator for energy development in federal waters, announced extensive consultations with ocean users and other stakeholders. The move aims to bolster the offshore wind industry while ensuring a robust and transparent planning process that includes engagement with Tribal governments, the Department of Defense, NASA, other government agencies, and various ocean users.
The combined area of the three WEAs spans approximately 356,550 acres (1,443 km²) and is estimated to hold at least 4.3 GW, with the potential for even more capacity. BOEM’s conservative estimate indicates a capacity of 3MW per square kilometer. However, as technology improves and projects progress, this capacity may increase.
The first WEA, A-2, covers an area of 101,767 acres and is situated 30 miles (48 km) off the coast, separating Delaware from New Jersey. This area alone is expected to hold at least 1.23GW of capacity. The second WEA, B-1, covers around 78,285 acres and lies approximately 27 miles (43.5 km) offshore Ocean City, Maryland, with an estimated capacity of 951MW. The largest of the three areas, C-1, encompasses an impressive 176,506 acres and is located about 40 miles (65 km) from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay off Virginia, expected to hold around 2.14GW of capacity.
These WEAs have become critical in enabling ambitious renewable energy targets set by several Mid-Atlantic states. For instance, Maryland’s Democratic governor, Wes Moore, has raised the state’s goal to 8.5 GW by 2031, solidifying the target in state law. Maryland has already contracted two ongoing projects by Danish developer Orsted and US Wind, totaling 2GW of capacity.
Similarly, New Jersey’s Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, has increased the state’s target to an impressive 11GW by 2040. The state already has 3.75GW of capacity contracted in three separate projects, two of which are being developed by Orsted with a combined capacity of 2.25GW. The Shell-EDF joint venture is also working on the 1.5GW Atlantic Shores array. New Jersey is accepting proposals for round 3 solicitations for up to 4GW of additional capacity.
Dominion Energy, a regulated utility company, is actively developing its 2.6GW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind (CVOW) array for the state of Virginia, which is part of its mandate to achieve 5.6GW by 2034.
Josh Kaplowitz, vice president of offshore wind for the renewable energy advocacy group American Clean Power, praised the announcement, stating that the new WEAs offer excellent locations for offshore wind development that could efficiently serve the population centers in the region.
The creation of these three WEAs represents just a subset of the eight draft areas identified by BOEM last year, covering an impressive 1.7 million acres together. All three WEAs are situated in shallow waters, making them suitable for fixed bottom foundations. BOEM has also mentioned the possibility of identifying additional WEAs in deeper waters farther offshore in the Central Atlantic planning area, pending further study.
BOEM’s selection process for these areas involved a collaborative effort with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, utilizing a comprehensive, ecosystem-based ocean planning model. Prior to any lease sale, BOEM will work closely with NOAA’s fisheries service to conduct an environmental assessment for the selected areas.
In light of ongoing military and aerospace activities, the Department of Defense (DoD) and space agency NASA are working alongside BOEM to ensure that WEA B-1 is compatible with their operations.
The announcement of the WEAs will be published in the Federal Register, initiating a 30-day comment period. This will allow stakeholders and the public to provide input and feedback on the proposed areas before further steps are taken.
With these new developments, the US is taking significant strides towards meeting its clean energy goals, fostering economic growth, and reducing its carbon footprint in the Mid-Atlantic region through the expansion of offshore wind power.
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