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Five companies will pay the feds $750 million for the opportunity to build huge floating wind turbines off the West Coast

<i>John Moore/Getty Images North America/Getty Images</i><br/>Wind turbines generate electricity at the Block Island Wind Farm in July near Rhode Island.
Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Wind turbines generate electricity at the Block Island Wind Farm in July near Rhode Island.

By Ella Nilsen, CNN

The Biden administration’s first-ever offshore wind energy lease sale for federal waters off the West Coast generated more than $750 million, as energy companies competed for five areas that could eventually be home to massive floating wind turbines.

Five companies, including Equinor and Invenergy, bid on five lease areas totaling more than 370,000 acres off the coast of Northern and Central California. The two-day lease sale concluded on Wednesday.

When developed, the leased areas near Morro Bay and Humboldt County have the potential to generate enough green energy for up to 1.6 million homes over the next decade, administration officials said last year.

The deep-water regions off the West Coast — and other coastal areas, including the Gulf of Maine — will require turbines to be installed on floating platforms and tethered to the sea floor. The platforms will also allow turbines to be installed farther from the coast.

In all, floating wind turbines off US coastlines could unlock up to 2.8 terawatts of clean energy in the future — more than double the country’s current electricity demand, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm estimated in September.

This week’s auction was ultimately not as lucrative as February’s offshore wind lease sale off the coast of the New York Bight, which drew a record $4.37 billion from six companies.

The New York lease sale “was just a perfect storm of all the right factors coming together to create a very, very expensive auction,” said John Begala, vice president for state and federal policy at nonprofit the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “I don’t see that happening again anytime soon.”

The lower bids in this week’s lease sale were due in part to the unique challenges of developing wind energy off the West Coast, Begala said. Because of the much deeper waters in Pacific, technology for floating offshore wind platforms is still being developed and tested.

But even with the challenges, Begala said there is massive potential with floating offshore wind — and an opportunity for the US to compete with Europe, which is also starting to develop floating offshore technologies.

“Not only is the potential massive for decarbonization on the West Coast, but there’s a huge economic potential here,” Begala said. “We have a lot of expertise here in the US when it comes to building floating offshore energy platforms; this is something we can do really well.”

The Biden administration has set a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy capacity by 2030, as well as 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035. In addition to the Pacific coast, the Gulf of Maine is being eyed for floating offshore projects.

White House national climate advisor Ali Zaidi said in a statement that the lease sale is part of “an unprecedented expansion in American clean energy production” and a “massive opportunity for the US economy.”

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