By Dave Levitan
In June, after years of offshore wind power projects being thwarted in the U.S., the first offshore wind turbine began spinning off the U.S. coast. The turbine was not a multi-megawatt, 400-foot behemoth off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Texas—all places where projects had long been proposed. Rather, the turbine was installed in Castine Harbor, ME, rising only 60 feet in the air and featuring a 20-kilowatt capacity—enough to power only a few homes.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
But it was a turbine—finally. Offshore wind power in the U.S. has struggled mightily to rise from the waves, even as other renewable energy industries have steadily grown. The country now has more than 60,000 megawatts of onshore wind, but still just the lone offshore turbine, a pilot project run in part by researchers at the University of Maine. Meanwhile, Europe has left the U.S. far behind, installing its first offshore turbine in 1991 and growing rapidly in the past decade. To date, the countries of the European Union have built 1,939 offshore turbines with 6,040 megawatts of capacity.
Is the U.S. offshore wind industry finally about to get off the ground? Offshore wind carries impressive electricity-generating potential, and several projects seem poised to get underway. But energy analysts say the industry still faces daunting hurdles, most notably the higher cost of building offshore wind farms, the expense of connecting them to the onshore grid and the lack of the comprehensive government incentives and renewable energy targets that have been crucial in fostering the growth of Europe’s offshore wind energy sector.
On the positive side, the infamous Cape Wind project, mired in legal battles for more than a decade, hopes to start construction next year. With plans to construct 130 turbines in the shoals between Nantucket and Cape Cod, Cape Wind has faced enormous legal struggles because of opposition from local residents concerned that the turbines would mar the region’s beauty and harm seabird populations. But its legal battles are now largely behind it, and Cape Wind has power-purchase agreements in place. The wind farm’s developer, Jim Gordon, says the project will eventually be capable of supplying about 75 percent of the electricity needs of Cape Cod, which has a year-round population of 215,000.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior have been aggressively moving to streamline permitting processes for offshore wind farms, and this summer completed the first two auctions for large offshore parcels for wind development off the East Coast. Rhode Island-based Deepwater Wind—owned in part by investment firm D.E. Shaw and by First Wind, a Boston-based developer—won the first-ever offshore wind auction held by a division of the Interior Department known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). With its winning $3.8 million bid, Deepwater Wind now holds the wind power rights to 165,000 acres off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
“We believe that site is the single best site for offshore wind in the U.S.,” says Deepwater CEO Jeffrey Grybowski, citing the powerful and consistent winds and access to markets in four states—Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. Though the exact number will depend on how much power it can sell to utilities, Deepwater Wind hopes to install roughly 200 turbines that could generate more than 1,000 megawatts, enough to power about 400,000 homes.
A second BOEM auction took place in early September for a 112,799-acre parcel off the coast of Virginia, this time won by Virginia Electric and Power Company. The planned wind farm could grow as big as 2,000 megawatts. Auctions for sites off of Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts are expected to be held in the next year.
“The more projects we get in the water, the more that will accelerate the development of the industry,” says Chris Long, the manager of offshore wind and siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association. “You need to build projects in order to continue innovations, to drive down costs, to achieve scale and achieve experience. Getting this first round of projects in the water will certainly help to accelerate the development of the industry.”
At this point, it appears that the first commercial offshore wind installation to begin operating in the U.S. will be Block Island Wind Farm, being developed by Deepwater Wind. Sited about three miles from Block Island—itself about 15 miles off the coast of Rhode Island—the wind farm will feature five mammoth turbines, each capable of generating six megawatts. The proposed Block Island installation has the advantage of sitting in state rather than federal waters, easing permitting issues. Grybowski, says permitting is all but finished for that project and construction should start next year.
Despite these developments, many analysts are skeptical about the near-term future of offshore wind, especially considering the uncertainty surrounding federal financial support.
“Some kind of policy incentive is needed in order to promote offshore wind, since its cost is still far above the market price of electricity,” says Bruce Hamilton, director of energy practice at the consulting firm Navigant.
Right now, the offshore wind investment tax credit is the only federal incentive, and it is set to expire at the end of 2013 after a one-year extension. It allows developers to take a tax credit on 30 percent of capital expenditures related to a wind project, but construction would have to start this year. Several U.S. senators earlier this year introduced the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act, which would attempt to stabilize the year-to-year policy, but that legislation is likely to die in committee.
“We will [likely] continue to have a stop-start policy at the federal level, since that is what we have experienced for the last couple of decades,” Hamilton says.
The uncertainty of federal funding has taken a toll on the proposed Atlantic City Wind Farm off the coast of New Jersey, which would feature five turbines totaling 25 megawatts of capacity. The company behind the project, Fisherman’s Energy, was founded by commercial fishermen intent on both developing wind energy and maintaining a strong fishing industry in the region. But the New Jersey Public Utilities Commission is balking at a potential multi-million dollar taxpayer hit if federal funding for the project disappears.
A major problem at this point is the high cost of offshore wind. Because of the difficulty of building wind turbines offshore and connecting them to the power grid, the price of electricity generated offshore along the U.S. East Coast is expected to be more than 15 cents per kilowatt hour, or several times the cost of producing electricity with coal or natural gas, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory. Those costs are expected to fall as more offshore wind farms are built and connected by an offshore grid. Another U.S. report says that a reasonable goal for offshore wind prices would be 10 cents per kilowatt hour by 2020 and seven cents per kilowatt hour by 2030.
A major project, backed by Google, is planned to link offshore wind farms along the U.S. East Coast to power consumers onshore. The Atlantic Wind Connection is a transmission “backbone” designed to let multiple offshore wind projects essentially plug in to undersea cables as they come online. The first phase, a cable that will stretch the length of the New Jersey coast and be capable of carrying 3,000 megawatts of electricity, is scheduled to begin construction in 2016. The rest of the “backbone” would extend down the coast past Delaware and Maryland, stretching to the coast of Virginia. Along with Google, the project is funded by such companies as Bregal Energy, Marubeni Corporation, and a Belgian transmission company, Elia.
Long, of the American Wind Energy Association, and others are confident that the initial phase of offshore projects will illustrate to policy makers the attraction of offshore wind power. Onshore wind, after all, is often plagued by siting issues, with nearby residents complaining about the sight and sound of large turbines. Most U.S. offshore projects are now proposed far enough off the coast that they will be essentially invisible—a lesson learned from the “viewshed” controversy surrounding Cape Wind.
Proponents hope that the start of several offshore projects will encourage more federal and state support and will serve as a reminder that there is a lot of energy just a few miles off the beach.
“The East Coast is the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind, because there is enough energy there to provide the entire U.S. with electricity if it was fully developed,” says Matt Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist and offshore wind expert with the non-profit group Oceana. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, part of the Department of Energy, puts the onshore and offshore U.S. wind energy potential at 4,150 gigawatts, around four times the entire electricity requirements of the U.S. The Northeast and mid-Atlantic coasts in particular are windy spots with water depths that make development feasible.
The U.S. has no national renewable energy target, but 29 states and Washington, DC, have adopted their own. Northeastern states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island have been aggressively pursuing renewables, and there is now legislation in New Jersey and Maryland specifically targeting offshore wind development.
Kevin Jones, deputy director of the Institute for Energy and the Environment at the University of Vermont Law School, says he is optimistic about the development of offshore wind, especially in the Northeast, in part because there are so few other options for renewables in the region and the opposition to onshore wind continues to grow.
“If natural gas prices remain low I think the offshore industry is going to need public policy support rather than federal subsidy, but it can happen if the Northeastern states work together to achieve economies of scale,” says Jones. That collaboration could include states collectively mandating that utility companies purchase a set amount of electricity from offshore wind farms.
Still, the progress in Europe is a clear reminder of how far the U.S. has to go, a gap that Huelsenbeck attributes to “a failure of our federal government to really back clean energy over the last few decades in a very powerful and consistent way.”
The European Union is on target to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and targets as high as 40 percent are being considered for 2030. In 2014 alone, close to two gigawatts of offshore wind—enough to power more than a million households—are likely to be installed in the EU, with the United Kingdom and Denmark leading the way.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Heather Houser
Compost. Fly less. Reduce your meat consumption. Say no to plastic. These imperatives are familiar ones in the repertoire of individual actions to reduce a person's environmental impact. Don't have kids, or maybe just one. This climate action appears less frequently in that repertoire, but it's gaining currency as climate catastrophes mount. One study has shown that the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from having one fewer child in the United States is 20 times higher—yes 2000% greater—than the impact of lifestyle changes like those listed above.
The Stickiness of Population<p>Only five years ago, there was minimal coverage of the child-free for climate movement. AOC is just one of many reasons it's lighting up now. New scientific analyses, scholarly debates, and social media conversations have shined a light on reproduction and climate. The influential <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/" target="_blank">Project Drawdown</a> framework for climate mitigation includes a list of solutions ranked by their potential impact, two of which—educating girls and providing access to family planning—they project will have <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions" target="_blank">a greater combined impact</a> on reducing greenhouse gas emissions than almost all other climate solutions because of their effect on fertility rates.</p><p>In January 2020, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/70/1/8/5610806" target="_blank">11,000 scientists signed onto a study that warned</a> about the unfolding climate emergency. The authors prescribe steps in six sectors that can prevent irreversible planetary collapse, including that "the world population must be stabilized—and, ideally, gradually reduced—within a framework that ensures social integrity." The framework they propose includes universal access to family planning as well as education and equity for young women. (Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410465111" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">scientific takes</a> on population-based climate actions are more skeptical about their immediate impact given the scale of fertility reductions needed to balance out longer lifespans.)</p><p>Even before 2020, a new movement was afoot to address climate by forgoing reproduction. Blythe Pepino, a British musician in her 30s, formed BirthStrike in 2018 to build a community of people—typically women-identified—who have opted not to reproduce in response to the ecological and social crises that climate change is creating. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, the group recognized the need to acknowledge the oppression that colors conversations about reproduction as it relates to climate and so reformed itself into a support group for those grieving parenthood. Their new stated goal is to channel that loss into action on climate justice.</p><p>Organizations such as <a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Conceivable Future</a>, however, continue to keep reproduction at the fore. Led by climate activists Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli, Conceivable Future is raising awareness about how the climate crisis affects "<a href="https://conceivablefuture.org/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intimate choices</a>" like reproduction. The Conceivable Future and now-defunct BirthStrike campaigns share ideological terrain with "<a href="https://www.npr.org/2016/08/18/479349760/should-we-be-having-kids-in-the-age-of-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">population engineers</a>," a group of bioethicists who <a href="https://doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract201642430" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">forward policies for</a> limiting the size of the global population through positive incentives like family planning classes and negative ones such as taxes on wealthy procreators. </p><p>In proposing specific policies rather than individual action, population engineers acknowledge the structures within which reproductive choices occur, everything from media influence to the tax code. Even with this shift to the structural, however, the racist, sexist, colonialist, and nativist legacies of the population question within environmentalism still plague child-free for climate. As do the historical and social injustices that constrain so-called choices.</p>
Racism and Xenophobia in Environmentalism<p>This summer and fall, the climate crisis and its correlated catastrophes—<a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/heat-wave-western-united-states/" target="_blank">extreme heat</a>, <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/14/a-third-of-bangladesh-underwater-after-heavy-rains-floods/" target="_blank">flooding</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/wildfires" target="_blank">wildfires</a>—are intensifying alongside Black Lives Matter uprisings and the <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/health-happiness/2020/06/09/coronavirus-public-health-social-justice/" target="_blank">coronavirus health disparities</a> among Black, Indigenous, and Latinx populations. This confluence has brought overdue attention to racism in environmentalism, as evidenced by the Audubon Society's recent <a href="http://audubon.org/magazine/fall-2020/revealing-past-create-future" target="_blank">reckoning</a> with racial injustices in its past and present, including <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/the-myth-john-james-audubon" target="_blank">publicizing</a> that its famed founder was a White supremacist and a slaveholder. The intersections of <a href="https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/09/23/election-black-voters-climate/" target="_blank">climate justice and racial justice</a> have also come to the fore through <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/05/climate/heat-minority-school-performance.html" target="_blank">studies of how Black communities are greatly harmed by hotter temperatures</a> and through the popular <a href="https://www.intersectionalenvironmentalist.com/" target="_blank">intersectional environmentalist</a> platform created by Leah Thomas, a young Black activist and "<a href="https://www.greengirlleah.com/about-1" target="_blank">eco-communicator</a>." To these reckonings we need to add the racism and xenophobia that have long characterized environmentally motivated population controls.</p><p>The New York Times recently exposed these sins in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/us/anti-immigration-cordelia-scaife-may.html/" target="_blank">a profile of Cordelia Scaife May</a>, showing how this heir to the Mellon fortune converted a love of birding into a network of anti-immigration, pro-population-control organizations that still influence politics today. In the 1960s May linked threatened birdlife to the rapidly expanding human population. May wasn't wrong to see and worry over this link: A host of human activities—from <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/popular-pesticides-linked-drops-bird-population-180951971/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">toxic agriculture and industry</a> to <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.0050157" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sprawling settlements</a> and <a href="https://www.npr.org/2017/10/05/555949789/light-pollution-can-impact-noctural-bird-migration" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light</a> and <a href="https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/birds-live-near-human-noise-sing-louder-shorter-songs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">noise pollution</a>—decimate avian habitats and habits. May's anti-immigration approach, however, indicates how readily environmentalism can mutate into racist and xenophobic actions.</p><p>The Times investigators show that "protecting natural habitats and helping women prevent unplanned pregnancies merged over time into a single goal of preserving the environment by discouraging offspring altogether." Taken on its own, this goal resonates with Conceivable Future's and population engineers' aims. To be clear, this does not mean that today's child-free climate advocates are racist nativists. However, it does indicate how readily the affiliation arises because of the ugly history of forced population control.</p>
Contemporary Examples<p>And this history is hardly past. For example, race and class conflicts erupted around a population platform within the Sierra Club only 15 years ago. In 2004, a faction of club members took a page from May and argued that more people living in the U.S. meant more encroachment on less developed land and water. As with May's effort, this anti-immigration push amounted to "the greening of hate," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League, who entered the dispute when they found White supremacists lobbying for anti-immigration Sierra Club board candidates. A 2010 <a href="https://www.splcenter.org/20100630/greenwash-nativists-environmentalism-and-hypocrisy-hate" target="_blank">SPLC report</a> firms up the connection between environmentalist intentions and racist agendas by explaining why White nationalist John Tanton infiltrated the club: "Using an organization perceived by the public as part of the liberal left would insulate nativists from charges of racism—charges that … would likely otherwise stick."</p><p>Charges of racism ultimately did stick to Tanton and his anti-immigration, pro-population-control allies. And they continue to stick in analyses of the child-free for climate movement today. Earlier this year, climate journalist Meehan Crist <a href="https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/meehan-crist/is-it-ok-to-have-a-child" target="_blank">took up</a> AOC's question of whether it's OK to have a child. In arriving at an answer (for her, yes), she affiliates child-free positions with "anti-feminist, racist and anti-human" values and with bad science. "Darker visions" proceed from this analysis, she writes, visions of those who believe "racial purity will save the planet. Closed borders. . . . Ecofascist death squads." The dark visions Crist spins from the child-free for climate question underscore how readily calls for reproductive limits touch the third rails of modern environmentalism: racism, eugenics, xenophobia, even death-dealing.</p><p>We get even closer to these third rails when we consider that the question of whether to reproduce is, for some people, no choice at all. Modern efforts to limit fertility, which ramped up after World War II, have targeted poor women in the Global South, and Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the U.S. using coercion and force. BIPOC reproductive justice advocates such as Loretta Ross have condemned dichotomous pro-abortion-rights versus anti-abortion politics for producing "<a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Radical_Reproductive_Justice/hN-4DgAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=loretta%20ross%20radical%20reproductive&pg=PT8&printsec=frontcover&bsq=anemic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anemic political analyses</a>" that ignore the reality of forced sterilizations in prisons and the appallingly high maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. These are all forms of what medical historian and ethicist Harriet Washington calls "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8WCS1Rs8K8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">medical apartheid</a>."</p>
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By Sharon Guynup
At this time of year, in Russia's far north Laptev Sea, the sun hovers near the horizon during the day, generating little warmth, as the region heads towards months of polar night. By late September or early October, the sea's shallow waters should be a vast, frozen expanse.
Comparison of autumn sea ice formation for the first half of October 2012 (the record year for Arctic sea ice extent loss) and in 2020 (second place for sea ice extent loss). The satellite record goes back to 1979. @Icy_Samuel, data provided by NSIDC
Arctic sea ice extent on Oct. 25, 2020 was at a record low 5.613 million square kilometers for this date, surpassing the record set in 2019 of 6.174 million square kilometers. ChArctic NSIDC
The Arctic appears to be changing into an entirely new climate state due to rapid warming. The extent of sea ice in the late summer, when it reaches its minimum each year, has already entered a statistically different climate, with surface air temperatures and the number of days with rain instead of snow also beginning to transition. Simmi Sinha, ©UCAR
A polar bear prowls the Arctic shoreline. VisualHunt.com
A fire burning through northern forest in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in July 2020. Greenpeace International
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By Peter A. Kloess
Picture Antarctica today and what comes to mind? Large ice floes bobbing in the Southern Ocean? Maybe a remote outpost populated with scientists from around the world? Or perhaps colonies of penguins puttering amid vast open tracts of snow?
Giants of the Sky<p>As their name suggests, these ancient birds had sharp, bony spikes protruding from sawlike jaws. Resembling teeth, these spikes would have helped them catch squid or fish. We also studied another remarkable feature of the pelagornithids – their imposing size.</p><p>The largest flying bird alive today is the <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/group/albatrosses/" target="_blank">wandering albatross</a>, which has a wingspan that reaches 11 ½ feet. The Antarctic pelagornithids fossils we studied have a wingspan nearly double that – about 21 feet across. If you tipped a two-story building on its side, that's about 20 feet.</p><p>Across Earth's history, very few groups of vertebrates have achieved powered flight – and only two reached truly giant sizes: birds and a group of <a href="https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/pterosaurs-flight-in-the-age-of-dinosaurs/what-is-a-pterosaur" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reptiles called pterosaurs</a>.</p>
Full-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus on display at JuraPark in Baltow, Poland. Aneta Leszkiewicz / Wikimedia<p>Pterosaurs ruled the skies during the Mesozoic Era (252 million to 66 million years ago), the same period that dinosaurs roamed the planet, and they reached hard-to-believe dimensions. <a href="https://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-quetz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Quetzalcoatlus</a> stood 16 feet tall and had a colossal 33-foot wingspan.</p>
Birds Get Their Opportunity<p>Birds originated while dinosaurs and pterosaurs were still roaming the planet. But when an <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-killing-asteroid-impact-chicxulub-crater-timeline-destruction-180973075/" target="_blank">asteroid struck the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago</a>, dinosaurs and pterosaurs both perished. Some <a href="https://www.audubon.org/news/how-birds-survived-asteroid-impact-wiped-out-dinosaurs" target="_blank">select birds survived</a>, though. These survivors diversified into the thousands of bird species alive today. Pelagornithids evolved in the period right after dinosaur and pterosaur extinction, when competition for food was lessened.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/spp2.1284" target="_blank">The earliest pelagornithid remains</a>, recovered from 62-million-year-old sediments in New Zealand, were about the size of modern gulls. The first giant pelagornithids, the ones in our study, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-75248-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">took flight over Antarctica about 10 million years later</a>, in a period called the Eocene Epoch (56 million to 33.9 million years ago). In addition to these specimens, fossilized remains from other pelagornithids have been found on every continent.</p><p>Pelagornithids lasted for about 60 million years before going extinct just before the Pleistocene Epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago). No one knows exactly why, though, because few fossil records have been recovered from the period at the end of their reign. Some paleontologists cite <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/02724634.2011.562268" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">climate change as a possible factor</a>.</p>
Piecing it Together<p>The fossils we studied are fragments of whole bones collected by paleontologists from the University of California at Riverside in the 1980s. In 2003, the specimens were transferred to Berkeley, where they now reside in the <a href="https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of California Museum of Paleontology</a>.</p><p>There isn't enough material from Antarctica to rebuild an entire skeleton, but by comparing the fossil fragments with similar elements from more complete individuals, we were able to assess their size.</p>
In life, the pelagornithid would have had numerous 'teeth,' making it a formidable predator. Peter Kloess, CC BY-NC-SA
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