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.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
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