Biden administration unveils plans for California offshore wind

Written by Nick Blenkey
floating offshore wind turbine

Developing California offshore wind will demand floating turbines: An artist’s rendering of the 12 MW floating wind turbine concept GE Research and Glosten are designing as part of a project with ARPA-E. [Image Glosten]

Mid-2022 could see the first offshore wind lease sale for a Wind Energy Area (WEA) off the coast of California, opening the way for the first floating wind farms off the U.S. coast.

The Biden administration and California Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced an agreement to advance areas for offshore wind off the northern and central coasts of California that could bring up to 4.6 GW of clean energy to the grid, enough to power 1.6 million homes.

The Department of the Interior, in cooperation with the Department of Defense and the State of California, has identified an area (“the Morro Bay 399 Area”) that will support 3 GW of offshore wind on roughly 399 square miles off California’s central coast region, northwest of Morro Bay. The Department of the Interior is also advancing the Humboldt Call Area as a potential WEA, located off northern California. These identified areas will enable the build out of a significant new domestic clean energy resource over the next decade or more.

“I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States, but it will take all of us and the best-available science to make it happen,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

Today’s announcement comes after years of collaboration between the Departments of the Interior and Defense to find areas offshore the central coast of California that are compatible with the Department of Defense’s training and testing operations. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a Call for Information and Nominations for offshore wind on October 19, 2018, for three areas off the central and northern coasts, including Humboldt and Morro Bay.

Going forward, Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will work with the Department of Defense to ensure long-term protection of military testing, training and operations, while pursuing new domestic clean energy resources.

The development of offshore wind can help California reach its state goals of having carbon-free energy by 2045, creating jobs, and fostering investments in coastal communities. Offshore wind resources are typically stronger and more consistent than land-based wind and are especially strong in the evening hours when solar production drops off, ensuring an important contribution to California’s electric grid.

“Developing offshore wind to produce clean, renewable energy could be a game changer to achieving California’s clean energy goals and addressing climate change—all while bolstering the economy and creating new jobs,” Newsom said. “This historic announcement, which could provide clean power for up to 1.6 million homes over the next decade, represents the innovative approach we need for a clean energy economy that protects the coasts, fisheries, marine life, and Tribal and cultural resources we value so much as Californians.”

BOEM, in partnership with California, will hold an Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force meeting on June 24 to discuss the identified areas off the north and central coasts as potential WEAs. Following the task force meeting, the WEAs can be finalized and will undergo environmental analysis; BOEM will also undertake government-to-government tribal consultation. The processes for the northern and central coasts will then be merged in a Proposed Sale Notice (PSN) for one lease sale auction, targeted for mid-2022.


A White House fact sheet issued today says:

“Because the outer continental shelf falls away much more quickly into much deeper waters in the Pacific than it does in the Atlantic Ocean, new floating offshore wind technology will be deployed in offshore California waters. Notably, and as a further demonstration of the Biden administration’s whole-of-government approach to clean energy development, the Department of Energy, through its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and ARPA-E, has invested more than $100 million in researching, developing, and demonstrating floating offshore wind technology. These investments have helped position the United States as a leader in the emerging global floating offshore wind market.”

One of the floating wind technologies that has emerged from the R&D is—named for its modular components that resemble spider legs—which is seen as having the potential to reduce costs by simplifying the construction and maintenance logistics for deep-water wind systems in challenging offshore marine environments.


Meantime, GE researchers have unveiled details of an ongoing two-year $4 million project being undertaken through the ARPA-E’s ATLANTIS (Aerodynamic Turbines Lighter and Afloat with Nautical Technologies and Integrated Servo-control) program. The aim is to design and develop advanced controls to support a 12 MW floating offshore wind turbine. GE is partnering on the project with Seattle-headquartered naval architecture and marine engineering firm Glosten, the developer of the PelaStar tension-leg platform floating wind turbine foundation.

Rogier Blom, a Senior Principal Engineer in GE’s Model-Based Controls and the project’s principal investigator, says the enormity of building a floating platform that can support a structure as massive as an 850+ foot offshore turbine cannot be understated.

“Designing a floating turbine is like putting a bus on a tall pole, making it float and then stabilizing it while it interacts with wind and waves,” says Blom. Doing this well is both a design and controls challenge.”

“Through our ATLANTIS project with ARPA-E, we will be concurrently designing the controls system with the design of the floating structure itself to advance floating offshore wind energy toward becoming a future commercially viable solution.”

Accelerating the development of new technologies to promote the future of floating offshore wind energy is the key objective of ARPA-E’s Atlantis program. By coupling a 12 MW GE turbine with Glosten’s tension leg platform technology, the team has taken on the challenge of designing a light-weight floating turbine with up to 35% less mass in the tower and the floating platform.

This is expected to result in a very significant reduction of the resulting Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) of the electricity generated with this turbine. The core principle that makes this possible is co-designing the controls system with the tower and floating platform.

“We excel when we engage across all of the active disciplines and components as we optimize our floating structures for a full system solution,” says Ben Ackers, Vice President and Principal in Glosten’s Ocean Engineering and Analysis group. “Collaborating closely with GE gives us another layer of detailed engineering design input beyond the standard drivers of site conditions, construction cost, schedule, and the resulting LCOE. This is the cooperation needed to bring floating wind to technical and commercial success.”

Blom noted that enabling floating offshore wind would dramatically expand the power generation potential of offshore wind power.

“With GE’s Haliade-X, the world’s most powerful offshore wind turbine built to date, we’re just beginning to tap into the future promise of offshore wind power in Europe, the U.S, and other parts of the globe,” Blom said. “Today, these fixed-bottom wind turbines are limited to depths of 60 meters or less. With floating turbines, we would be able to dramatically expand the reaches of offshore wind power to areas with water depths of 60 meters or greater.”

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), the introduction of floating turbines would dramatically expand the potential of U.S. offshore wind resources to more than 7,000 TeraWatt hours (TWhs) per year, nearly double the total annual U.S. energy consumption of 4,000 TWh.


“This announcement provides a clear path for offshore wind’s expansion to the West Coast and is a vital milestone for many major industry stakeholders,” said Liz Burdock, president and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind.

The Business Network for Offshore Wind has spent ​several years laying a foundation that would bring the offshore wind industry to the West Coast, which has organized a specialized expert Floating Offshore Wind Working Group, expected to publish its first report in early June.

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