US secretary of commerce Gina Raimondo told an offshore wind awards event that new models of collaboration between industry and government are needed for the nation to meet the Biden administration’s goal of 30GW in place by the end of the decade.
“Every one of these projects is complicated and requires that collaboration, innovation and new models, and to take what has happened in Europe to the US,” Raimondo told the Ventus Awards gala in Washington, DC.
As head of the Department of Commerce, Raimondo oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which plays a major role in the environmental impact statement (EIS) required for each project.
The former governor of Rhode Island, however, has been a driving force in the US offshore wind industry for far longer, starting with her spearheading of the Block Island Wind project nearly a decade ago.
The 30MW Block Island array was the first offshore wind project developed in US waters and blazed the trail for the American industry.
“Everything we did [at Block Island] was a first,” she said. “It didn’t happen overnight. It took years to coordinate with the developer.”
Block Island Wind faced multiple regulatory setbacks on its decade-long journey and getting it across the finish line took concerted effort by government and the private sector.
“These projects showcase the power of American labour, American innovation, American ingenuity, and the great things that can happen at the intersection of public and private sector,” she said.
“It is something that we now need to replicate,” she said, adding: “I hope the work we did [on Block Island] will allow us to scale much more quickly.”
Permitting was a major hurdle for Block Island and remains a bottleneck today. The Biden administration is prioritising a streamlined process through a “whole-of-government” approach to inter-agency cooperation.
“We need to get the permitting right in a speedy time frame,” Raimondo admitted. “We have already started to take action to streamline and improve permitting without cutting corners.”
Ensuring that the process remains rigorous is a major concern, and allegations of corner-cutting in the EIS are at the core of multiple lawsuits aimed at the US’ first two offshore wind arrays.
“NOAA has a huge role to play, and we will play that role in partnership with [developers], from providing foundational information about our oceans and climate to undertaking regulatory review and permitting to get these new projects ready for construction,” she said.
'More turbines in ocean and sky'
Referencing roundtable discussions between federal agencies and the industry on permitting reform, Raimondo told the gala, “We have already started to take action and make changes based upon [industry’s] advice.
“We have to get more of these turbines in the ocean and in the sky,” she told the awards gala. “And we're going to do what we need to do to get the permitting right.”
Along with government and industry collaboration, she highlighted the need to widen the scope of participants in project development.
“You cannot short circuit stakeholder engagement. If you put in the hard work in the front end of the process, talking to the stakeholders, talking to the commercial fishermen, talking to the recreational fishermen, doing the permitting properly, it actually will get done faster.”
Job creation is a major part of offshore wind’s appeal, she noted. The Department of Energy estimates that offshore wind will generate $12bn in annual investment and add 77,000 jobs.
“The promise of offshore wind to bring clean energy, high wage, highly skilled jobs to coastal communities is amazing,” Raimondo said.
Raimondo spoke as she was honoured with the Heronemus Award for Outstanding Achievement for her contributions in advancing the sector.
The Heronemus Award, named in honor of William Edward Heronemus (1920 – 2002), known as the “father of modern wind power”, is the highest award given at the Ventus Gala and recognises an individual who has contributed significantly to the expansion of offshore wind energy.