Interior Department Moves to Streamline Offshore Wind Approval

By Christian Roselund

While federal energy permitting reform legislation remains stalled, the U.S. Department of the Interior is moving to update its regulations to ease deployment of offshore wind. Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is proposing regulatory changes that it says will streamline overly complex and burdensome processes, clarify ambiguous provisions, and enhance compliance. The agency says this will decrease the costs and uncertainty of deploying offshore wind and estimates that this will save developers $1 billion over a 20-year period.

The proposed rule has eight major components:

  • Eliminating unnecessary requirements for the deployment of meteorological buoys
  • Increasing survey flexibility
  • Improving the project design and installation verification process
  • Establishing a public Renewable Energy Leasing Schedule
  • Reforming BOEM’s renewable energy auction regulations
  • Tailoring financial assurance requirements and instruments
  • Clarifying safety management system regulations
  • Revising other provisions and making technical corrections

BOEM posted its notice of proposed rulemaking on 12 January 2023, ahead of publication in the federal register. Publication will open a 60-day comment period.

BOEM’s move was praised by industry groups including American Clean Power Association (ACP), which described existing regulations as “largely unchanged since 2009.” “BOEM’s proposed rule is major step in the right direction,” said Josh Kaplowitz, ACP Vice President of Offshore Wind. “Updating and enhancing BOEM’s rule-making process is critical to ensure the offshore wind industry maintains momentum in the permitting and deployment of clean energy.”

The Biden Administration has held three offshore wind leases in federal waters, including the first lease sale for waters off the West Coast in California. However, despite the awarding of multiple gigawatts of offshore wind leases, the nation only has 42 megawatts of operational offshore wind turbines, with another 932 megawatts under construction and scheduled to be online by the end
of 2023.

This move follows a 10 January 2023 announcement that Elizabeth Klein has been named to succeed Amanda Lefton as director of BOEM. Klein has been promoted to this position internally, after serving as legal counsel to Interior Secretary Deborah Haaland and chair of the Indian Water Rights Working Group. Prior to joining the Biden Administration Klein was deputy director of the State Energy & Environment Impact Center at the New York University School of Law. Press release: Interior Department Takes Steps to Strengthen Offshore Clean Energy Development (BOEM)