McDermott Will & Emery

Earlier this week, the Biden Administration announced its intent to consider further expansion of offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico. This announcement comes two weeks after the Biden Administration announced an agreement to lease almost 400 miles off California’s northern and central coasts for wind development. Potential offshore wind leasing in the Gulf of Mexico may play an integral role in the administration’s goal of installing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

To continue its exploration into offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico, the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will publish a Request for Interest (RFI) in the Federal Register on June 11 to evaluate development interest, potential environmental consequences and other possible uses of the proposed area. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland acknowledged that, “Offshore wind development has the potential to create tens of thousands of good-paying, union jobs across the nation. This is an important first step to see what role the Gulf may play in this exciting frontier.”

The RFI will focus specifically on the Gulf of Mexico’s Western and Central Planning Areas offshore to Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama. Although the emphasis is on wind energy, BOEM is also seeking information on other renewable energy technologies, according to the Interior Department. Publishing the RFI will open a 45-day comment period, after which the agency will review comments and data received to determine the next steps in the renewable energy leasing process in the Gulf.

“The Gulf of Mexico has decades of offshore energy development expertise,” Mike Celata, regional director of BOEM’s Gulf of Mexico office in New Orleans, said. “Working directly with our partners in the Gulf, we will make sure that offshore renewable energy development proceeds in an orderly, safe, and environmentally responsible manner.”

Developing offshore wind projects in the Gulf may prove more difficult than projects on the east coast (or even deepwater projects in California) for a few reasons. First, other than the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), wholesale power markets are generally not developed in the region. Second, the wind resource (with some exceptions) is not as strong as the wind resource on the east coast. Finally, it is unclear whether states will provide the necessary incentive programs (in the form of offshore wind renewable energy certificate (OREC) programs or otherwise) to support development. There are a few mitigating counterfactors however, including the historic presence of major oil developers in the region that are collectively looking to “go green,” vocalized support from leadership—including the Governor of Louisiana—the declining price of offshore wind technology and the recently expanded offshore investment tax credit (ITC).

Currently, BOEM has leased approximately 1.7 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico’s Outer Continental Shelf for offshore wind development and has 17 commercial leases on the Atlantic— from Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras. After the comment period concludes on the RFI, information on offshore wind development in the Gulf is expected to be announced by the Biden Administration.

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