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Biden’s bold offshore wind power plans face a long bureaucratic road

President Joe Biden congratulates Interior Sec. Deb Haaland, before signing a proclamation to restore the protections of Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Washington, DC, October 8, 2021 (Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters)

Interior Dry. Deb Haaland On Wednesday, his department will identify and eventually lease much of the US coastline – from the Gulf of Mexico to the northeast, California and Oregon – for offshore wind farms by 2025.

“The Home Office sets an ambitious roadmap as we push forward the administration’s plans to tackle climate change, create well-paying jobs and accelerate the country’s transition to a cleaner energy future,” Haaland said.

Combined with President Biden’s previous actions to move forward in approving already proposed offshore wind projects, The New York Times Biden’s effort as “the most powerful push ever by [the] federal government to promote the development of offshore wind.

But before the United States can actually replace all of its coal and gas power plants, some things will have to happen. And while the decade-long multi-step process of developing offshore leases goes unhindered, Biden’s offshore wind plans to date will represent a modest part of the country’s voracious appetite for electricity.

Earlier this year, Biden to produce 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to power 10 million American homes. Experts and industry executives say the new offshore wind leasing pledge could allow for a larger market transformation that will ultimately lead the United States to Biden’s goal of relying only on sources. clean energy by 2050, but that depends on what happens next. Wind power boosters hope the new rental opportunities will create a robust US offshore wind industry capable of delivering much more power by mid-century.

Rental opportunities “are more important in their ability to really lay the foundation for building this industry,” said Nathanael Greene, senior renewable energy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization. “On their own, 30 gigawatts is not enough. We need more of the offshore wind industry if we are to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The way we do it is through these kind of early efforts. “

Wind turbines are seen at the Thanet Offshore Wind Farm off the Kent coast in southern England on September 23, 2010. Thanet Farm is the world's largest operational offshore wind farm.  REUTERS / Stefan Wermuth (BRITTANY - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT)

Wind turbines at the Thanet offshore wind farm off the coast of southern England, 23 September 2010. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)

Hence this effort is “a very elaborate process, a very collaborative stakeholder engagement process to get these projects built,” according to Evan Vaughn, deputy director of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition Action, a coalition of renewable energy companies in one of the regions covered by the Biden administration’s announcement.

Past efforts to build offshore wind turbines have at times come into conflict with local residents raising cosmetic objections and businesses worried about impacts such as damage to fishing. Thus, the Office of Oceans and Energy Management (BOEM), which is part of the Home Office, first determines which areas are going to be leased through meetings and collecting public comments. .

“Fishermen, coastal communities, maritime merchant vessels, coast guards, the Department of Defense, offshore wind developers and state governments all have a role to play in these working groups,” Vaughn explained. . “BOEM evacuates potential areas depending on these conflicts, such as very hot fishing grounds, for example. “

The lease rights are then auctioned in the chosen locations. Haaland’s intention is to complete this phase by 2025.

“And then, it’s not even done yet,” Vaughn said. Winning developers must submit a “Build and Operate Plan” through federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act. “It’s a whole different set of comments and reactions from the public,” Vaughn said.

Before wind farm developers can actually start building, there are also state government permits and multiple opportunities for anyone who objects to taking legal action. A project off the coast of Massachusetts that received approval earlier this year is now being pursued by neighbors who it will harm the whales, a coalition of industrial groups and – in what would seem like a joke on hypocritical wealthy environmentalists if that weren’t true – a solar company who has previously opposed offshore wind farms in the region because they will appear in the ocean view from his home.

For areas that have just been opened up to offshore wind development, Vaughn estimates that it will take, “about 10 years, from prospecting the concession area to an online project, having steel in the water.” .

A construction crane floats alongside a barge carrying jacket support structures and a platform for a turbine for a wind farm in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, Rhode Island, July 27 2015. Deepwater Wind, a five-turbine, 30-megawatt wind farm off Block Island, would be North America's first offshore wind farm, a milestone the company says could pave the way for a long established industry in Europe but still struggling with opposition in the United States.  REUTERS / Brian Snyder

A construction crane floats alongside a barge carrying jacket support structures and a platform for a turbine for a wind farm in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, Rhode Island, July 27 2015. (Brian Snyder / Reuters)

As you might expect, installing and maintaining wind turbines in the ocean costs more than doing it on land. While wind power is the cheapest way to add power capacity in the Great Plains, offshore wind still tends to be more expensive than natural gas.

But large coastal population centers are far from the heart of heavy winds, and many coastal states are committed to cleaning up their own energy portfolios. In fact, there are enough existing buy offshore wind power to exceed Biden’s offshore wind power production targets, at least by 2035. And few people, especially in liberal coastal areas, want to live on top of a gas pipeline . Offshore wind is therefore competitive in coastal markets and prices have strongly over the past two years.

Currently, some of the key components of offshore wind turbines – including the 59-foot-wide “monopiles” that are sunk into the ocean floor – are only made in Europe. If they could be built domestically, without needing to be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, for example, it could make the construction process faster, cheaper, and more profitable for the United States.

All of this assumes that former President Donald Trump, whose obsessive hatred of wind power stems from his disgust for their appearance on his golf course in Scotland, will not return to power in 2025 and throw a heavy blow in the process. . (Trump has that windmills cause cancer and reduce the value of neighboring houses by three-quarters.)

Industry advocates are expressing optimism that even Republican administrations will support offshore wind development in the future. “The states have provided support on a bipartisan basis,” said Vaugh, pointing to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, both Republicans in favor of offshore wind power production.

The national economic potential of offshore wind is hard to deny. A released on Tuesday by the Offshore Wind Special Initiative of the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, estimates that $ 109 billion will be invested in the U.S. offshore wind industry by 2030 if the goals of Biden in offshore wind are met.

“What economic stimulus is generated when we build more than 2,000 turbines? The key is, it’s not necessarily in any state, or even necessarily in the United States at this point, ”said Kris Ohleth, executive director of the Special Offshore Wind Initiative. “This is what we are trying to stress, is that the time has come urgently: to bring this $ 109 billion now to the United States and our states, we must act with policies conducive to this type. of movement, because right now the supply chain is still mainly in Europe.

Trump may not like what offshore wind turbines look like, but he will have a hard time discussing the economic benefits for American businesses. The problem for Biden, however, is that the bureaucratic process could take years.

“It starts with federal research and consultation, with lease auctions, environmental impact analysis, community outreach and supply chain strengthening,” said Greene. “There are all these parts, and we have to move the industry forward as quickly as possible. “


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