The Biden administration has committed to building and expanding American clean energy infrastructure including offshore wind. With wind farms built on the seas, however, how do sponsors obtain rights for their projects? We asked leading environmental law expert Prof. Michael Gerrard for the basics when it comes to obtaining offshore wind rights, key terms of leases, and the challenges related to laying underwater cable.
Michael Gerrard is the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School and the founder and faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.
Interview with Climate Change Expert – Prof. Michael Gerrard
Joel Cohen: Professor, we talked a little bit about offshore but how does someone get the rights to build an offshore wind farm?
Professor Michael Gerrard: So the land is owned by the federal government, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management which is within the Department of the Interior is the agency that controls. Under the Trump administration, they really slowed down the permitting for these projects. Under the Biden administration, that's going to pick back up, but there's there's federal jurisdiction over that. The the cables found within the first three miles or so offshore, that's within state jurisdiction and so the states have to grant that authority in addition to the Army Corps of Engineers and then when it gets to land, that's largely a matter of local zoning to to allow the land-based facilities.
JC: How do these actually work? Do you bid for or purchase the rights to harvest wind for a period of time – are these 10-year 20-year 50-year grants?
Prof. Gerrard: So, the bureau of ocean energy management holds auctions to lease the the offshore land and on land, the Bureau of Land Management which is a different part of the Department of the Interior holds auctions for the use of federal lands for these kinds of facilities.
Establishing the First Offshore Wind Project
JC: You mentioned to me that there's only one real example of an offshore wind farms and that's in Rhode Island, how was that project able to succeed?
Prof. Gerrard: So it had local support. The residents of Block Island were able to cut a deal and it has lowered their electricity rates to have a wind farm off their shores. So, they were happy with it and they were able to get the federal approvals and and move on and get the project built. We're about to see, I think, a very large amount of new wind farm development off the coast of long island. We're seeing it off Massachusetts and New Jersey as well. All those states are greatly encouraging offshore wind and there are a lot of projects that are getting underway.