Offshore wind farms show what Biden’s climate plan is up against

A constellation of 5,400 offshore wind turbine meet the growing part of Europe’s energy needs. the United States exactly seven.

With more than 90,000 miles of coastline, there are plenty of places in the country to shoot down turbines. But legal, environmental and economic barriers and even vanity get in the way.

President Biden wants to catch up fast In fact, their goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depend on that event. Yet problems abound, including a lack of large boats to haul huge equipment out to sea, fishermen worried about their livelihoods and wealthy people who fear that the turbines will affect pristine views from their waterfront mansions. There is even a century-old, politically sinister federal law known as the Jones Act, which prohibits wind farm developers from using US ports to launch foreign construction ships. .

offshore turbines are useful because the wind blows stronger and more stable in the ocean than on the coast. Turbines can be placed far enough away that they are not visible from the ground, but still close enough to cities and suburbs that they do not require hundreds of miles of expensive transmission lines.

Biden The administration wants up to 2,000 turbines in the water over the next eight and a half years. officials have recently Approved a project near Martha’s Vineyard who remained sluggish during the Trump administration and announced support in May Large wind farms off the coast of California. The $2 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by Mr Biden in March would also increase incentives for renewable energy.

The cost of offshore wind turbines has fallen nearly 80 percent over the past two decades to $50 per megawatt. While more expensive per unit of energy than solar and wind farms on land, offshore turbines often make economic sense because of their lower transmission costs.

“The solar desert in the east is a bit more challenging than it is in the west,” said Robert M. Blue, president and chief executive of Dominion Energy, a large utility company working on a wind farm with about 200 turbines. Coast of Virginia. “We have set a net-zero goal for our company by 2050. This project is essential to achieving those goals.”

The slow pace of offshore wind development highlights the trade-offs between urgently addressing climate change and Biden’s other goals of creating well-paying jobs and protecting local habitats. For example, the United States could move through more projects if it were willing to repeal the Jones Act’s protections for domestic shipbuilding, but it would undermine the president’s employment promises.

These difficult questions cannot be solved with federal spending alone. As a result, it may be as difficult or impossible for Mr Biden to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2035 and reach net-zero emissions across the economy by 2050, as he would like.

“I think the obvious fact is that other places have jumped on us,” said Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that leases federal water to wind developers. “We won’t be able to build offshore wind if we don’t have the right investments.”

The introduction to Europe means it has established a thriving complex of turbine manufacturing, construction ships and an experienced workforce. so the United States may have to Rely on European components, suppliers and ships for years.

Installing huge offshore wind turbines the largest ever made by General Electric, 853 feet high – hard work. Ships with cranes that can lift more than a thousand tons carry large components to sea. At their destination, the legs are lowered into the water to raise the ships and stabilize them while they work. Only a few ships can handle the largest components, and this is a major problem for the United States.

Project manager Lloyd Ely helped build nuclear submarines early in his career and has spent the past eight years at Dominion Energy. Neither of them prepared him to oversee the construction of two wind turbines on the Virginia coast.

Mr. Eli’s biggest problem was the Jones Act, which requires ships traveling from a US port to anywhere within the country, including its waters, to be built and registered in the United States and owned by Americans. and employees.

The largest US-built ships designed to perform offshore construction work are about 185 feet long and can lift about 500 tons, according to one. government accountability office report Published in December. This is too small for the huge components Mr. Eli’s team was working with.

So Dominion hired three European ships and operated them from the Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia. One of them, the Volle au Vent from Luxembourg, is 459 feet (140 m) long and can lift 1,654 tons.

Mr Eli’s crew waited weeks at a time for European ships to make the journey to port more than 800 miles each way. Installations took a year. In Europe, this would have been completed in just a few weeks. “It was definitely a challenge,” he said.

The US shipping industry has not invested in the ships needed to carry large wind equipment because there are so few projects here. first five offshore turbines Block Island, RI in 2016. were established near Dominion’s two turbines were installed last year.

If the Jones Act did not exist – enacted after World War I to ensure that the country could mobilize ships and crews during wars and emergencies – the Dominion could drive European ships out of the ports of Virginia. . the law is holy in congress, and labor unions and other supporters argue that repealing it would eliminate thousands of jobs at shipyards and boats, leaving the United States dependent on foreign companies.

Demand for larger vessels could grow significantly over the next decade as the United States, Europe and China have ambitious offshore wind targets. According to Dominion, just eight ships can transport the largest turbine parts in the world.

Dominion is spending $500 million on a ship, being built in Brownsville, Texas, that can carry large wind instruments. Named after a sea monster from the Greek myth, Charybdis, the ship would be 472 feet (144 m) long and capable of lifting 2,200 tons. It will be ready by the end of 2023. The company said the ship, which it would also lease to other developers, would let it set up roughly 200 more turbines until 2026. Dominion spent $300 million on its first two, but is expected to spend $40 million on the others.

For the past 24 years, Tangier Island resident Tommy Eskridge has made a living catching shellfish and crab off the Virginia coast.

One area is in the works where Dominion plans to place its turbines. Federal regulators have adjusted the distance between the turbines to one nautical mile to create wider lanes for fishing and other boats, but Mr Eskridge, 54, worries the turbines could damage his catch.

The region has produced up to 7,000 pounds of shellfish a day, although Mr Eskridge said about half that amount is produced on a typical day. He said that a pound can fetch from 2 to 3 dollars.

Mr Eskridge said the company and regulators have not done enough to show that installing the turbines will not hurt their holdings. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do.”

Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Coalition, which includes hundreds of fishing groups and companies, worries the government is failing to scrutinize proposals and do adequate planning.

“What they’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s do this thing we’ve never really done here, go all in, damn the objectors,'” Ms Hawkins said. “From a fisheries perspective, we know there is going to be a massive displacement. You can’t take the fish anywhere else.”

Fishing groups point to recent problems in Europe to justify their concerns. For example, Orsted, the world’s largest offshore wind developer, has sought a court injunction to keep fishermen and their equipment out of an area of ​​the North Sea earmarked for new turbines while it studies the area.

Orsted said he had tried to “work closely with the fishermen”, but had sought orders because its work was complicated by gear left in the area by a fisherman that he could not identify. “In order to conduct the survey work safely and only as a last resort, we were left with no option but to reserve the right to remove this gear,” the company said in a statement.

When developers first applied for a permit in 2001 for Cape Wind, a project between Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, resistance was fierce. Opponents included Massachusetts Democrat Senator Edward M. Kennedy. who died in 2009, and William I. Koch, an industrialist.

Neither wanted the turbines to affect the views of the coast from their leisure compounds. They also argued that the project would disrupt 16 historic sites, disrupt fishermen and block waterways used by humpback, pilot and other whales.

After years of legal and political battles, Cape Wind’s developer gave up in 2017. But before that happened, Cape Wind’s troubles stunned energy officials who were considering offshore wind.

Projects up and down the East Coast are implicated in similar fights. Residents of the Hampton, wealthy enclave, opposed the two wind development areas and the federal government. Project postponed. On the New Jersey Coast, some Homeowners and businesses are resisting offshore wind Because they fear it will raise their electricity rates, disrupt whales and harm the region’s floating fisheries.

Energy officials want the Biden administration to mediate such conflicts and expedite the approval of permits.

“It has been artificially, incrementally slow because of some inefficiencies on the federal permitting side,” said David Hardy, CEO Oersted North America.

Renewable-energy proponents said they were hopeful because the country had added a lot of wind turbines to the land — 66,000 in 41 states. they supplied more than 8 percent country’s electricity last year

Ms Lefton, the regulator who oversees the leasing of federal waters, said future offshore projects would move more quickly as more people appreciated the dangers of climate change.

“We have a climate crisis ahead of us,” she said. “We need to transition to clean energy. I think that will be a big motivator.”

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