Washington State’s Future with Offshore Wind: Opportunities for Capitalizing on Floating Offshore Technology



I. Introduction 

Washington State has long been a leader in renewable energy production and has a reputation for progressive protection of the environment. However, this reputation may be in peril. On one hand, Washington produces an incredible amount of carbon-free electricity attributable to the extensive network of hydroelectric dams within the State’s boundaries. But this carbon-free electricity has not come without cost. Ecological damage associated with Washington’s dams has brought scrutiny since at least the 1940s and is again reaching the national stage.[1],[2] Most notably, the negative impacts to salmon and other native fish populations have sparked calls to breach several of Washington’s dams.[3] So, what is Washington to do?

While it has made efforts to become a leader in hydrogen power and to increase solar capacity, Washington is also among those states positioned to facilitate offshore wind and create another opportunity for clean energy production and diversified grid resilience.[4],[5] Until recently, states on the West Coast faced the reality that the geology of their coastline was not conducive to offshore wind. More specifically, steep continental shelves made fixed-base offshore wind projects impracticable. But the advent of floating offshore wind technologies overcomes that problem, and many experts view floating offshore wind as a key component to meeting the energy demands of the future.[6] Accordingly if Washington is to remain a leader in renewable energy production and respond to the negative impacts of many of the dams in the state, its leadership must look offshore and foster expansion of floating technologies.


II. Background and Need for Energy Diversification

Hydroelectric dams within Washington produce more hydroelectric power than in any other state in the country.[7] However, due to the growing call to breach several of these dams, it is time for Washington to diversify its renewable energy infrastructure. Thankfully, this effort is already underway. In 2019, the state committed to increasing its clean energy capacity when it passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA).[8] Most notably, CETA establishes a series of clean energy benchmarks including: the elimination of coal-fired generation by 2025; becoming greenhouse gas-neutral in its retail electricity supply by 2030; and to achieve 100% carbon-free or renewable power generation by 2045.[9] Importantly, CETA places restrictions on increasing hydroelectric capacity.[10] Consequently, the CETA goals must be achieved by directing resources to other carbon-free energy sectors. Although it is unclear how much generating capacity must be replaced before a responsible breach can occur, it will likely be significant.

In 2021 there were 76 hydroelectric facilities operating in the Evergreen State with a total generating capacity of 21,300 megawatts (MW).[11] These dams are owned by various entities including the federal government, state and local governments, or investor-owned utilities. Their individual generating capacity varies significantly, ranging from 30 megawatts (MW) to over 6800 MW at Grand Coulee Dam–one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world.[12] Four of the most controversial dams in the state—the Four Lower Snake River Dams—can produce 3500 MW of power during high demand periods, and greatly increase the Northwest power system’s reliability.[13] Because of this capacity, many think a responsible breach of these dams can only occur after this generating capacity has been replaced by other energy resources.[14] Although floating technologies are still in their infancy, their potential for clean, renewable power is immense, and must be considered.


III. Floating Offshore Wind Technology and the Biden-Harris Administration

The world’s first floating offshore wind project went online in 2017 off the coast of Scotland.[15] Dubbed the Hywind Project, the Norwegian-designed and built wind farm has an installed-capacity of 30 MW–enough power to supply electricity to about 20,000 homes.[16] While only two additional floating offshore projects have come online since 2017,[17] many countries, including the United States, are seeking to expand their floating offshore energy portfolios. Although there are many potential benefits, this recent focus largely stems from the realization that offshore wind is superior to onshore wind in two important aspects: power and consistency.[18]

A. Summary of Biden Administration Goals

The Biden-Harris Administration has stated two broad and interrelated policy goals relating to offshore wind development in the United States. First, in March of 2021, President Biden announced a goal of deploying 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity, enough to power 10 million homes, by 2030.[19] Offshore windfarms can already be found on the East Coast, where relatively shallow waters made the more traditional fixed-base offshore platforms practicable.[20] However, due to the enormous potential and technological advances made in the offshore industry, on September 15th of this year the Administration announced a second goal of achieving 15 GW of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035. This goal builds on the 30 GW goal announced last year and opens the door to federal support for innovative projects on the West Coast.[21]

B. Federal Work Underway and Opportunities for Washington State

Several federal agencies, including the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Transportation, are working to accomplish these goals. For example, as part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy EarthshotsTM initiatives, the Floating Offshore Wind ShotTM focuses on reducing the cost of floating offshore technology by 70% by 2035, with an end goal of reducing costs to $45 per MWh.[22] To achieve this goal, DOE is, among other efforts, working to identify barriers to properly scaling these technologies and ensuring the right supply-chain systems are developed, all while ensuring energy justice goals are achieved.[23]

Additionally, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)—the federal agency with jurisdiction over developing the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)—published a Call for Information and Nominations (Call) in April 2022 to determine the extent of commercial interest in developing floating offshore projects off the Oregon Coast.[24] More recently, the Bureau held an offshore energy lease sale for wind projects off California’s coast, drawing more than $757 million in competitive bids in just a few days.[25] Although federal efforts have not yet focused on Washington, there are early signs of interest. Around the same time BOEM issued its Call regarding Oregon’s project, Trident Winds, LLC, a Seattle based startup sent an unsolicited lease request to the Bureau seeking approval to construct Washington State’s first floating facility.[26] The project, preliminarily named the Olympic Wind Floating Farm, would be located 45 miles west of Westport, WA. If approved, construction for Olympic Wind could start as early as 2028.[27]

Of course, offshore wind development is not without opposition. Among the critics are commercial fishing trade groups fearing degraded fisheries[28] and seaside communities looking to maintain their scenic coastlines.[29] Even environmental groups have raised concerns that BOEM has not properly assessed impacts to marine birds, mammals, and fragile ocean ecosystems before issuing Calls for energy projects.[30] To compound these concerns, offshore wind’s critics often view these negative impacts as extending to the supporting shoreline infrastructure.[31] Consequently, proponents of offshore wind should be prepared to respond. By emphasizing proper planning and early engagement with stakeholders, project proponents will still be positioned to take advantage of supportive state and federal policies and push toward a successful offshore economy.


IV. Recommendation to Washington State

While the federal government and industry will have critical roles in meeting the Administration’s goals, there is more that can be done at the state-level. To remain a national leader in renewable energy production, Washington must explore and incentivize a wide-range of renewable energy paths—including offshore wind. Accordingly, Washington should look for opportunities to synergize both the Biden-Harris Administration’s and CETA’s goals. Other states have explored similar paths and may serve as a model for supportive law and policy.

For example, New Jersey passed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act in 2010, which in part directed its Board of Public Utilities to incentivize offshore wind development.[32] The incentives include tax credits, long-term contract preferences, and other financial support, and were followed by a series of state Executive Orders that established goals for offshore wind capacity.[33] Other states have mandated offshore wind procurement goals and streamlined siting rules for offshore wind-related projects.[34] Washington could benefit from adopting similar approaches in future amendments to the CETA, and in revisions to its Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that specifically target offshore wind.

More importantly, however, Washington should create industry incentives that take advantage of the already-existing supply chains and infrastructure bordering the Puget Sound to bring offshore wind production in-state. This would shorten the supply chain for offshore development off Washington’s coast and create a gravitational center for offshore wind manufacturing throughout the Pacific Northwest and West Coast.[35] Other West Coast states have identified their lack of appropriate port infrastructure as an impediment to deploying the large-scale turbines needed for floating offshore production.[36] In this respect, Washington’s 11 deep-draft ports, combined with a supply chain that already supports high-tech aviation manufacturing, position it to lead the floating offshore deployment effort.


V. Conclusion

While it is unlikely that every hydroelectric dam in Washington will soon be breached, there is a growing call to breach specific dams that negatively impact other natural resources. Therefore, to substitute for this loss in energy supply and to meet its renewable energy goals, it is time for Washington to look to another one of its natural resources: offshore wind. Although behind other West Coast states regarding offshore wind, it is not too late. In fact, there are many compelling reasons why the right time is now. Federal resources to establish an offshore economy are available and there is already commercial interest in making this renewable resource work. But to fully establish the infrastructure and supply chain for this technology, and ultimately have a way to deploy it, specific action is needed at the state level. Washington State should step up and lead the charge.


*Lewis & Clark Law School L.L.M. Candidate in Environmental, Natural Resources, and Energy Law


[1] DamSense article, “History,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://damsense.org/history.

[2] Geranios, Nicholas K., “White House: to Help Salmon, Dams May Need to Be Removed,” Associated Press, July 12, 2022, accessed March 30, 2023, https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2022-07-12/white-house-to-help-salmon-dams-may-need-to-be-removed. This article highlights two reports released by Federal Agencies in July of 2022. The first report discusses the health of salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River Basin. The second lays out opportunities for replacing the generating capacity of the Four Lower Snake River Dams. See Press Release, The White House, United States of America, “Federal Agencies Announce Two New Analyses to Help Inform Restoration of Columbia River Basin Salmon and Long-Term Energy Planning in the Pacific Northwest,” (July 12, 2022), accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/ceq/news-updates/2022/07/12/federal-agencies-announce-two-new-analyses-to-help-inform-restoration-of-columbia-river-basin-salmon-and-long-term-energy-planning-in-the-pacific-northwest.

[3] Save Our Wild Salmon, “Why Remove The 4 Lower Snake River Dams?” accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.wildsalmon.org/facts-and-information/why-remove-the-4-lower-snake-river-dams.html.

[4] Baumhardt, Alex, “Oregon, Washington hope to make Northwest the U.S. leader of ‘green hydrogen’ energy,” Oregon Capital Chronicle, September 13, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://oregoncapitalchronicle.com/2022/09/13/oregon-washington-hope-to-make-northwest-the-u-s-leader-of-green-hydrogen-energy.

[5] Bernton, Hal, “Solar farms are booming in Washington state, but where should they go?” the Seattle Times, May 3, 2021, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/solar-farms-are-booming-in-washington-state-but-where-should-they-go.

[6] Center for American Progress, “The Road to 30 Gigawatts: Key Actions to Scale an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,” March 14, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/the-road-to-30-gigawatts-key-actions-to-scale-an-offshore-wind-industry-in-the-united-states.

[7] U.S. Energy Info. Admin., “Washington State Profile and Energy Estimates,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=WA.

[8] Revised Code of Washington, Chapter 19.405, WASHINGTON CLEAN ENERGY TRANSFORMATION ACT, accessed March 31, 2023, https://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2019-20/Pdf/Bills/Session%20Laws/Senate/5116-S2.SL.pdf.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] U.S. Energy Info. Admin, “Hydroelectric State,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.eia.gov/tools/a-z/index.php?id=C#hydroelectriccapacity. This report compares hydroelectric energy sources by year, state, producer type, and other factors. For this paper, the author sorted the entries by state and year to determine 76 facilities were reported operational in 2021. For a report by the Washington Dep’t of Ecology, see “Inventory of Dams Report,” September 11, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://apps.ecology.wa.gov/publications/documents/94016.pdf.

[12] U.S. Army Corps of Eng’r, “Grand Coulee Dam,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.nwd.usace.army.mil/CRSO/Project-Locations/Grand-Coulee/#:~:text=Power%20production%20facilities%20at%20Grand,is%20rated%20at%206%2C809%20megawatts.

[13] Harrison, John, Northwest Power and Conservation Council, “Lower Snake River Dams Replacement Power Study by E3,” July 20, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.nwcouncil.org/news/2022/07/20/lower-snake-river-dams-replacement-power-study-by-e3. See also Ross Strategic/Kramer Consulting, “Lower Snake River Dams: Benefit Replacement Report,” August 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/images/LSRD%20Benefit%20Replacement%20Final%20Report_August%202022.pdf. This report was commissioned by the Washington Governor’s Office and Senator Patty Murray’s Office in May 2021 and in part discusses various options for replacing the LSRD generating capacity. However, the report also discusses broader socioeconomic factors relating to the LSRD that are being considered prior to a formal decision on breach.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Equinor, “World’s first floating wind farm has started production,” October 18, 2017, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.equinor.com/news/archive/worlds-first-floating-wind-farm-started-production.

[16] Equinor, “World’s first floating wind farm has started production,” October 18, 2017, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.equinor.com/news/archive/worlds-first-floating-wind-farm-started-production.

[17] United Nations, “Floating wind turbines: a new player in cleantech,” April 21, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://unric.org/en/floating-wind-turbines-a-new-player-in-cleantech/. One of the projects, WindFloat Atlantic, is a 25 MW floating windfarm located off the coast of Portugal. The other, the Kincardine Offshore Windfarm, is a six turbine 50 MW project also located off the coast of Scotland that has been called the largest floating wind farm in operation. See Frangoul, Anmar, “Able to power 50,000 homes, the ‘world’s largest floating wind farm’ takes another step forward,” Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), September 21, 2021, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/21/worlds-largest-floating-wind-farm-takes-another-step-forward.html.

[18] Center for American Progress, “The Road to 30 Gigawatts: Key Actions to Scale an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,” March 14, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023,https://www.americanprogress.org/article/the-road-to-30-gigawatts-key-actions-to-scale-an-offshore-wind-industry-in-the-united-states. This report prov https://www.americanprogress.org/article/the-road-to-30-gigawatts-key-actions-to-scale-an-offshore-wind-industry-in-the-united-states/.

[19] The White House, “FACT SHEET: Biden Administration Jumpstarts Offshore Wind Energy Projects to Create Jobs,” March 29, 2021, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/29/fact-sheet-biden-administration-jumpstarts-offshore-wind-energy-projects-to-create-jobs.

[20] Center for American Progress, “The Road to 30 Gigawatts.”

[21] The White House, “FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Actions to Expand U.S. Offshore Wind Energy,” September 15, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/09/15/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-announces-new-actions-to-expand-u-s-offshore-wind-energy.

[22] U.S. Dep’t of Energy, “Floating Offshore Wind Shot: Unlocking the Power of Floating Offshore Wind Energy,” September 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2022-09/floating-offshore-wind-shot-fact-sheet.pdf.

[23] Ibid. The Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity is responsible for the agency’s implementation of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, a plan to direct 40% of the overall climate change investment toward historically burdened communities. For more details on this initiate see The White House, “Justice40: A Whole of Government Initiative,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.whitehouse.gov/environmentaljustice/justice40/.

[24] U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Mgmt., “Renewable Energy: State Activities,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.boem.gov/renewable-energy/state-activities.

[25] U.S. Dep’t of Interior, “Biden-Harris Administration Announces Winners of California Offshore Wind Energy Auction,” December 7, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://doi.gov/pressreleases/biden-harris-administration-announces-winners-california-offshore-wind-energy-auction.

[26] Turner, Nicholas, “Seattle developer pushes for WA’s first floating offshore wind farm off Olympic Peninsula,” the Seattle Times, April 11, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/seattle-developer-pushes-for-was-first-floating-offshore-wind-farm-off-olympic-peninsula.

[27] Ibid.

[28] The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, “Offshore Wind Energy,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://rodafisheries.org/offshore-wind.

[29] Center for American Progress, “The Road to 30 Gigawatts: Key Actions to Scale an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,” March 14, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023,https://www.americanprogress.org/article/the-road-to-30-gigawatts-key-actions-to-scale-an-offshore-wind-industry-in-the-united-states. This report prov https://www.americanprogress.org/article/the-road-to-30-gigawatts-key-actions-to-scale-an-offshore-wind-industry-in-the-united-states/.

[30] Center for Biological Diversity & Defenders of Wildlife, “Re: Comments on Request for Interest in Commercial Leasing for Wind Power Development on the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf (OCS),” July 26, 2021, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.regulations.gov/comment/BOEM-2021-0041-0018. Although this comment relates to an offshore project in the Gulf of Mexico, proponents for offshore wind in the Pacific should expect similar commentary.

[31] Peticolas, Susanne & Christopher J. Cavaiola, New Jersey’s Plan to Become the National Capital of Offshore Wind, 35-4 Nat. Res, & Env’t 35, 37 (2021).

[32] 2010 N.J. ALS 57, 2010 N.J. Laws 57, 2010 N.J. Ch. 57, 2010 N.J. S.N. 2036

[33] N.J. Dep’t of Environmental Protection, “About Offshore Wind,” accessed March 31, 2023, https://dep.nj.gov/offshorewind/about.

[34] Nat’l Conference of State Legislatures, “Offshore Wind on the Horizon,” December 2017, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/offshore-wind-on-the-horizon.aspx.

[35] DOE already recognizes the need for a robust manufacturing supply chain to facilitate offshore development and recently launched a contest to design commercial-scale deployment of the technology. See U.S. Dep’t of Energy, “DOE Launches Prize to Accelerate Domestic Supply Chains for Floating Offshore Wind Energy,” September 12, 2022, accessed October 31, 2023, https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/articles/doe-launches-prize-accelerate-domestic-supply-chains-floating-offshore-wind.

[36] See Oregon Dep’t of Energy, “Floating Offshore Wind: Benefits & Challenges for Oregon,” September 15, 2022, accessed March 31, 2023, https://www.oregon.gov/energy/Data-and-Reports/Documents/2022-Floating-Offshore-Wind-Report.pdf (discussing the lack of appropriate port infrastructure as an impediment to deploying offshore wind).

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