Best of the West: Offshore wind development; repurposing oil and gas wells; flying on biofuel; NASA’s return to the moon

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Nov. 14, 2022. (Photos courtesy of Unsplash/Grahame Jenkins, Arizona State University, and NASA)

As the West searches for innovative solutions to meet its ambitious clean energy goals, adding offshore wind to the region’s portfolio could help it stay on track. 

Western Governors support the development of the industry to reduce emissions, strengthen economic opportunity, and create jobs.

By 2035, the U.S. plans to deploy 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity, which could power 5 million homes. 

In December, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold the first-ever offshore wind lease sale off California's central and northern coast.

In September, the U.S. Departments of Interior, Energy, Commerce, and Transportation introduced the Floating Offshore Wind Shot Initiative, which aims to reduce the cost of the energy source by 70% by 2035. The DOE will use funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to analyze research gaps related to offshore wind integration in WashingtonCalifornia, and Oregon.

“Offshore wind is a critical part of our planning for the future,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said. “Some of the nation’s best potential for wind energy is along the southern coast of Oregon and the northern coast of California.”

Additionally, the agency will conduct an environmental research project using bat acoustic monitoring to help offshore turbines coexist with the species, as well as address the challenges posed by existing infrastructure.

This investment isn’t the only one made by the federal government in recent years. In 2019, the DOE started a grant program to advance the development of megawatt-scale vertical axis turbines for offshore wind farms. The engineering in these systems makes curved blades rotate around a central and upright pole. The unconventional concept, which is more cost-effective and compact than traditional systems, would float the turbines out to sea on platforms rather than fixing them to the seabed.

As the industry grows, a study conducted by the Colorado-based National Research Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the industry will need to add 15,000 to 38,000 new full-time employees on an annual basis between 2024-2030. It will create various jobs within the manufacturing and supply chain sectors, including finance, engineering, and skilled trades. The Western Governors have expressed their support for work-based learning programs and skilled trades in their bipartisan policy resolutions, with can be found here.

Mapping Progress: The U.S. Forest Service created an interactive map that shows the progress of its 10-year wildfire crisis strategy to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire in national forests. It prioritizes mitigation work in the most vulnerable areas of WashingtonOregonCaliforniaIdahoMontanaColoradoNew Mexico, and Arizona. “With this story map, audiences across the country can see in real-time where investments are being made to create safer communities and healthier, more resilient forests,” U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore stated. Read what Chief Moore said about restoring burned landscapes at WGA’s 2022 Annual Meeting

Flying on Biofuel: Air travel is an integral part of transportation in the U.S., with 45,000 planes flying across the nation daily. Researchers with Arizona State University discovered that the key to decarbonizing the industry could be a drought-tolerant grass, known as miscanthus. If grown on 23.2 million hectares of marginal agricultural lands that are fallow or have poor soil quality, the grass could produce enough biomass the meet U.S. demand for liquid jet fuel. 

Repurposing Oil and Gas Wells: Engineering students at the University of North Dakota are researching the potential of harnessing geothermal energy from oil and gas wells. In 2021, the team won first place at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Geothermal Collegiate Competition for a proposal to heat homes using geothermal energy from existing oil and gas wells. The students presented their findings to the rural community of New Town, which could implement a district heating system and geothermal greenhouse using the renewable resource. Learn more about the potential for geothermal heating and cooling systems in a new WGA Webinar for Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ Heat Beneath Our Feet Chair Initiative.

Going to the Moon: NASA is returning to the moon with the launch of Artemis I, the world’s most powerful rocket. The 5.7-million-pound Space Launch System (SLS), which has close ties to the West, is carrying Colorado-based Lockheed Martin’s Orion Spacecraft that will bring astronauts back to the moon. Boeing and Northrop Grumman also contributed to the SLS. The BioServe Space Technologies research center at the University of Colorado has a research project aboard Orion that will examine the effects of deep space radiation on human DNA to help ensure astronaut safety on future missions. 

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