Smoother Sailing to 30 GW by 2030: Proposed Enhancements to Offshore Wind Permitting Process


March 14, 2023

Leaders across the United States are prioritizing offshore wind development as an essential component of any strategy to address climate change, since the ocean is one of the few available areas that can provide enough renewable energy capacity to meet the United States’ zero-carbon electricity goals by 2050.

In 2021, the Biden administration set a national goal to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030, while eight states on the East Coast have also set targets totaling 37 GW. While there are only two operational offshore wind farms in US waters today, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates a pipeline capacity of more than 40 GW, with the first commercial-scale wind farms in the Atlantic Ocean slated to start spinning later this year.

Although the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has accelerated its approach to identifying potential wind development areas and leasing those areas, the permitting and development process for offshore wind projects is lengthy and complex, taking decades to complete and costing billions of dollars.

To stimulate deployment of offshore wind in the United States, BOEM on January 30, 2023 proposed an overhaul of its complex regulations governing offshore renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). These changes are targeted at streamlining the BOEM leasing and permitting processes that many see as a necessity to facilitate the large-scale offshore wind buildout necessary to meet the nation’s ambitious deployment goal. Comments on the proposed regulations are due by March 31, 2023.

Overview of Offshore Wind Permitting from Leasing to Operations

As the lead permitting agency for offshore wind, BOEM manages the selection and leasing of wind energy development sites on the OCS. It leases grant developers the exclusive right to pursue and plan an offshore wind project in the area, not the right to construct facilities. Developers must still seek BOEM approval for actual development of the leased areas, which involves several steps that take years to complete.

Current Process

Under the current regulations, BOEM first reviews and issues a permit for a Site Assessment Plan (SAP) that enables the developer to begin collecting data on the lease area to inform project design. The developer later submits a Construction and Operation Plan (COP) that describes all proposed activities and planned facilities for the lease area and assesses the potential impacts of the offshore wind project. BOEM performs detailed environmental and technical reviews of the COP in coordination with other federal and state agencies possessing authority over ocean waters before it issues a green light for a project.

Following COP approval, the developer must submit design, fabrication, and installation reports verified by an independent third party before the offshore wind farm can begin construction.

Proposed Regulations

BOEM’s Renewable Energy Modernization Rule (Proposed Regulations) is the first material refresh to the OCS renewable energy regulations since they were first promulgated in 2009 when the US offshore wind industry was in its infancy. The Proposed Regulations seek to formalize BOEM’s current practices, reflect key takeaways from 11 completed auctions and BOEM’s management of 27 commercial leases over the last 13 years, and introduce greater flexibility in a rapidly changing industry.

The Proposed Regulations aim to provide greater transparency, consistency, and certainty to the offshore wind industry by, among other things, implementing changes to BOEM’s lease issuance procedures, the regulatory approval processes to conduct activities on a lease, and financial assurance requirements.

Improving BOEM’s Renewable Energy Auction Process

BOEM proposes to remove the prescribed auction formats, bid systems, and bid variables in its current regulations to simplify the process and allow tailoring of each auction’s format and procedures in response to comments on the Proposed Sale Notice for specific wind energy areas.

Under the Proposed Regulations, BOEM would formalize the use of multifactor auctions, including bidding credits used in the most recent auctions held in the Carolinas and in California. These credits are designed to promote public policy goals through the competitive lease award process, such as the workforce development agreements, domestic supply chain commitments, and community benefits. BOEM is specifically seeking stakeholder input on alternatives to achieve these nonmonetary goals as well as comments on whether the regulations should impose a cap on the value of bidding credits that can be earned in an auction.

The Proposed Regulations add provisions regarding the actions BOEM could take if a winning bidder does not move forward with a lease or if a lease area is later relinquished or reduced in size. This area was not specifically addressed under the existing regulations, and the Proposed Regulations also provide greater clarity on the steps that both BOEM and the provisional winner need to take between auction and lease execution. It is anticipated that these clarifications will provide greater certainty to all participants in upcoming auctions.

The Proposed Regulations also include new restrictions on pre-auction communications aimed at preventing bidder collusion. Specifically, BOEM proposes to prohibit bidders from disclosing their auction strategies and economic valuations of the lease area to other bidders listed in the Final Sale Notice. Public comments on this proposal will likely address the appropriate means of deterring anticompetitive behavior given that partnerships among developers will be necessary to achieve 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

Under the Proposed Regulations, BOEM will also be required to publish a proposed five-year leasing schedule for its entire OCS renewable energy program. It is anticipated that adding this level of transparency will assist developers in determining where best to deploy their resources and investments and thereby foster more industry participation and allow for better planning.

Streamlining Regulatory Approvals for Site Assessment, Construction, and Operations

Offshore wind projects are complex and the current permitting process can last for more than a decade, from lease issuance to commencement of construction. During that time, technologies can evolve, and project economics can be impacted by inflation and supply chain problems. BOEM’s proposal involves several revisions to develop a faster and more predictable regulatory approval process.


The Proposed Regulations eliminate the need for BOEM to approve an SAP prior to deploying meteorological buoys without an engineered foundation in lease areas. BOEM estimates that this permitting change would save more than $1 million of compliance costs at the site assessment stage. BOEM also would not require a limited lease for buoys deployed on off-lease areas, to encourage data gathering for additional areas suitable for offshore wind generation. These changes are anticipated to allow for significantly faster development of project plans as they will remove duplicative and resource-intensive permitting requirements.

Geophysical and Geotechnical Data

BOEM’s current regulations require geophysical data for each turbine location and engineering-specific geotechnical data in the COP submission. BOEM proposes to provide discretion to lessees and grant holders to submit geophysical and geotechnical data in stages and to use project design envelopes (PDEs) in COP submissions. This increased flexibility would allow for project design changes based on new technologies, stakeholder input, or economic factors that may impact project viability. By allowing staged collection of data, developers should be able to take advantage of developing technologies and avoid time-consuming and expensive engineering surveys that later prove unnecessary because of layout changes.

BOEM is seeking to duplicate the processes successfully used in many European regulatory programs, with the goal of ensuring that it has sufficient information to meaningfully study the potential environmental impacts of a project while allowing flexibility. BOEM is seeking comments on whether it has successfully completed this complex line-drawing process.

CVA Review

Based on industry feedback, BOEM is proposing to approve third-party certification verification agent (CVA) nominations before COP submittal and to allow separate facility design reports and fabrication and installation reports for major project components. BOEM is proposing these changes to both encourage developers to seek CVA review throughout their project design process and permit the use of specialized CVAs to verify specific project components.

It is anticipated that aligning the verification process with current industry practice will generate more meaningful information both to the developer (by allowing for approval of the CVA earlier in the planning process) and to the agencies (by clearly specifying details regarding the CVA’s role in the process).

Customizing Financial Assurance Requirements

BOEM leaseholders and grant holders make regular payments to the US Treasury under the terms of their leases and grants. To secure these payments, decommissioning costs, and other lease or grant obligations, the rights holders are required to provide financial assurance at various points in the development process in the form of a bond or other qualifying instrument. BOEM is proposing updates to better align the requirements with the risks, including eliminating the current need to provide financial assurance before the COP approval, but requiring supplemental financial assurance before project construction. Lessees are also currently required to provide $100,000 in financial assurance to secure a commercial lease; BOEM is proposing that this pre-execution security be based instead on 12 months’ rent.

The updated regulations would also add the flexibility to use letters of credit from qualifying institutions and permit third-party guaranties to impose liability caps, thereby opening the possibility of using multiple instruments to provide the required financial assurance. Finally, BOEM is proposing to permit a staged funding of decommissioning costs for a project during its operations period, as opposed to requiring the full funding prior to installation. Decommissioning security funding would be required pursuant to a customized schedule and could be funded through a trust account or other means.

These proposed changes customize the financial assurance requirements to the underlying lease or grant and help ease the financial burden on smaller developers.


Modernizing BOEM’s renewable energy regulatory process is another step forward in advancing offshore wind energy development in the United States. By submitting comments on the Proposed Regulations, developers and other stakeholders will have a valuable opportunity to offer recommendations that could speed up project approvals and reduce regulatory barriers to building offshore wind farms on the OCS.