US President Joe Biden has named New York State environmental official Amanda Lefton as the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Department of Interior agency confirmed to Recharge.
The role at BOEM, which will oversee the administration’s planned launch of US commercial-scale offshore wind on a robust growth path this decade, does not require confirmation by the US Senate.
Walter Cruickshank, present acting and deputy director of BOEM, will continue as deputy director, a position he has held since the agency was created in October 2011.
Lefton has served as first secretary for energy and the environment for New York state governor Andrew Cuomo since January 2019. Prior to that, she was deputy policy director for seven years at the New York chapter of the Nature Conservancy, a leading national environmental group.
Under Cuomo, she played a prominent role in the development and passage of the 2019 Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA) that addresses climate change by transitioning the state to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The law also included a nation-leading commitment to have 9GW offshore wind capacity online by 2035.
As BOEM chief, Lefton’s immediate priorities with offshore wind will be to get the first large-scale project – the pioneering but long-delayed Vineyard Wind 1 – fully permitted, while setting realistic timelines for completion of comprehensive federal environmental reviews for multiple east coast projects to enable construction that BOEM can meet, and holding long lobbied-for lease area sales off New Jersey/New York and possibly California.
East coast states have commitments to procure 29GW of capacity through 2035 with almost 9GW under contract or awarded.
Those numbers are expected to significantly increase as the country accelerates its transition to cleaner energy resources with Biden elevating climate change to an “essential element” of American foreign policy and national security, more lease areas become available and the industry develops a world-class supply chain.
Recharge understands that US House of Representatives majority Democrats plan to reintroduce legislation – the Ocean-based Climate Solutions Act - that will set the nation’s first targets for offshore wind power capacity in federal waters at 12.5GW by 1 January 2025 and 25GW by 1 January 2030.
Biden, who wants “thousands of turbines” installed at sea during his four-year term, and his White House climate team see offshore wind as a “lynchpin” and potentially “low-hanging fruit” to helping meet his goal to decarbonise the electric grid by 2035, Laura Morton, senior director of policy and regulatory affairs for offshore wind at the American Clean Power Association (ACPA), said in an interview.
During Donald Trump’s four-year term, the offshore wind project permitting process had lagged at BOEM, whose historical focus was to regulate oil & gas development on the federal outer continental shelf. This is where much of its budget has been allocated, something Biden wants changed.
“There is no question that permitting delays and lack of regulatory certainty represent some of the biggest challenges in advancing renewable energy production that are needed to meet the Biden administration’s energy goals,” said Laura Smith Morton, senior director of offshore wind policy and regulatory affairs industry body the American Clean Power Association, noting that doing this in transparent fashion will “invite and incentivise global investors to come here and usher in this new industry”.
Early reaction to Lefton’s appointment was positive from sector advocacy groups, including the Business Network for Offshore Wind (BNOW). “Having a seasoned state government and policy leader like [Lefton] at BOEM’s helm over the next four years provides the offshore wind industry confidence that the Biden Administration will fulfill its commitments to double offshore wind and expand opportunities for renewable energy development,” said BNOW chief Liz Burdock.
The industry had expected the 800MW Vineyard Wind 1 off Massachusetts would be the first project to obtain a green light by BOEM. This is now unclear.
In early December, Vineyard Wind, owned 50-50 by Iberdrola-controlled Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP), abruptly withdrew its Construction and Operations Plan (COP) for the array from the federal permitting process days before BOEM was due to issue a Record of Decision.
Vineyard said an internal technical review showed no COP changes were necessary after its late switch to GE Renewable Energy’s 13MW Haliade-X turbine, re-submitting the plan on 25 January and asking the agency to finalise its review based on the extensive analysis and studies of the project since 2018.
Now, Lefton faces a choice: return Vineyard Wind 1 to the top of BOEM’s permitting queue, a move that could anger other developers facing costly delays as they await actions by the agency, or stick with BOEM’s 16 December decision to require it to submit a new COP.