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Offshore wind gets its steel-in-the-water moment

Illustration of a wind turbine popping up off of a blueprint.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Optimism, skepticism and a bit of disbelief were some of reactions threaded through American Clean Power's annual offshore wind conference in Providence, Rhode Island, last week.

Why it matters: The industry spent decades mired in federal regulatory delays. Now it can barely keep pace with demand for development.

State of play: Developers, investors and service companies at the conference were upbeat. And why not?

  • Already the Biden administration had been leasing parcels for wind development off the East Coast. One auction near New York surpassed $1 billion.
  • Meanwhile, the Biden administration has set a goal of 30 GW of development by 2030.

Yes, but: There's also wariness around the issue of bottlenecks.

  • Permitting can take a long time — there's plenty of eyeballs watching whether the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has the staff to manage the influx of new projects.
  • Port infrastructure is badly in need of upgrading: The towers and blades for turbines are enormous — the newest blades stretch longer than a football field. They'll need to be assembled near ports, and those ports can't be obstructed by low bridges.

Meanwhile: The industry will need a host of new boats to bring equipment and crews to sea.

  • There are only a handful of ships in the world that are large enough to install the newest generation of truly giant turbines.
  • More prosaically, even vessels that shuttle crews from shore to turbines are in short supply.

Bottom line: This is a long-awaited moment for the industry. But there remain plenty of hurdles — as well as opportunities for investment.

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