Avangrid Renewables has submitted a plan to federal regulators for the first 800-megawatt phase of its Kitty Hawk offshore wind project, an opening move in a plan to build 2.5 gigawatts of wind power off the Virginia and North Carolina coast over the coming decade. 

Friday’s filing of a construction and operations plan with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) marks the opening of a multiyear process for what could be the first commercial-scale offshore wind project off the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast, Bill White, Avangrid Renewables’ head of U.S. offshore wind, said in a prepared statement. 

The project’s first phase is aimed to start construction by 2024, and it will be followed by other phases that could bring 2.5 gigawatts of generation capacity online by 2030. Avangrid cited an environmental impact statement indicating the project will drive $2 billion in economic activity over that time, including creating about 800 jobs in Virginia and North Carolina. 

Avangrid Renewables is the clean power development arm of U.S. utility company Avangrid, a subsidiary of Spanish utility group Iberdrola, which has taken a major stake in the nascent but fast-growing U.S. offshore wind market. The developer is also seeking BOEM approval for the first 800-megawatt phase of the Vineyard Wind project planned to eventually connect 2 gigawatts of wind power off the Massachusetts coast, as well as the 804-megawatt Park City project off the Connecticut coast. 

Kitty Hawk would be the first offshore wind farm for North Carolina coastal waters. But it isn’t the only major offshore wind project targeting the mid-Atlantic region. Virginia-based utility Dominion Energy has built a 12 MW pilot project off the Virginia coast that came online this year, and it plans to build 2.6 GW by 2026, a major step toward meeting the targets set by Virginia’s Clean Economy Act to secure 5.1 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2034. 

Virginia’s offshore wind ambitions mirror those being set by other Eastern U.S. states seeking to decarbonize their energy mix and reduce the impacts of climate change. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia have set targets adding up to a total of 29 gigawatts by 2035. 

Massachusetts has proposed targets of up to 3.2 GW of offshore wind by 2026 and another 2.8 GW by 2035. Beyond the Vineyard Wind project, utilities have awarded contracts for 804 megawatts to Mayflower Wind, a developer owned by Shell and EDPR Offshore North America.

New York has a state target of 9 GW by 2035, awarded 1.7 GW of offshore wind contracts last year, split roughly evenly between Norway’s Equinor and Denmark’s Ørsted and its utility partner Eversource Energy, and opened a solicitation for up to 2.5 GW more this summer. 

New Jersey has set offshore wind targets of 3 GW by 2030 and 7.5 GW by 2035. Last year it awarded its first contract for Ørsted’s 1.1 GW Ocean Wind project. Last week it received bids for its next round of awards between 1.2 GW and 2.4 GW of projects, with bids submitted by Ørsted and by Atlantic Shores, the 50-50 joint venture between EDF Renewables North America and Shell New Energies US. 

Challenges facing this massive offshore wind development include managing the cost impacts and delays associated with environmental impact reviews, scaling up the manufacturing and installation capacity for the nascent industry, and building the undersea transmission networks needed to bring the power to shore. 

Under the Trump administration, BOEM has delayed review of Vineyard Wind’s environmental impact statement from early 2020 to some time next year, pushing out the timeline for the project and reducing the value of the federal tax credits it had planned to receive. 

Early this month, Vineyard Wind announced it was temporarily withdrawing its construction and operations plan from BOEM review to rework it to include larger-scale General Electric wind turbines. On Friday, Bloomberg reported that the Interior Department had ruled that this action would force the project to restart its permitting process, which could add a year to its planned 2023 completion date. It's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration would retain or alter this Trump administration decision. 

Eastern states are also working to develop the manufacturing sites and port facilities to support their planned offshore wind build-out. Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland have formed a collaboration on this effort, with Dominion leading the charge, as the states compete with New York, New Jersey and New England states for the investments and jobs to come from this development. 

And offshore wind industry groups have called for states to work with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to devise cooperative frameworks for planning and sharing the costs of transmission, to avoid the risk of planning bottlenecks that could slow projects and increase costs.