Monday, April 10, 2017

Is Trump Embracing Offshore Wind?

The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island. (Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
In March, the Interior Department auctioned off 122,405 acres of water off Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to the Spanish-based Avangrid for $9 million.  Avangrid, a division of Iberdrola, beat out three competitors, including Norway’s Statoil and Germany wind farm developer wpd. 

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hailed the auction, affirming that offshore wind is "one tool in the all-of-the-above energy toolbox that will help power America with domestic energy, securing energy independence, and bolstering the economy.  This is a big win.”

That followed the equally stunning announcement a week prior by Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that it plans to stage another competitive lease auction in 400,000 acres of New England waters, triggered by unsolicited applications for the same area by Statoil and the U.S. wing of Germany’s PNE Wind. 

The parcels are adjacent or near areas off Massachusetts and Rhode Island already leased by Denmark’s DONG Energy, Germany’s OffshoreMW, and Rhode Island’s Deepwater Wind.

Those two developments signal that the Trump administration takes the economic potential of offshore wind energy far more seriously than might be assumed from the president’s past disparagement of wind turbines.  Trump told the New York Times shortly after his election, “We don't make the windmills in the United States.  They're made in Germany and Japan."

Already big business in U.S.
But it may have dawned on the Trump administration that offshore wind is actually much more an American industry than most people realize. 

In 2015, Boston-based General Electric made the biggest purchase in its history, acquiring the French energy infrastructure giant Alstom for $10.6 billion.  The deal included Alstom’s offshore wind turbine manufacturing operations, including a plant in Saint Nazaire, France, that made the five turbines spinning in the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm, the 30-megawatt Deepwater Wind Block Island project.

GE proceeded last year to purchase the world’s largest turbine blade manufacturer, Danish-based LM Wind, for $1.65 billion.  Last month, the LM Wind division announced it is building a blade manufacturing plant in the Normandy region of France, providing at least 550 direct and 2,000 indirect jobs as that nation ramps up its offshore industry.  The factory will be capable of making the longest turbine blade in the world, nearly 300 feet long, for new-generation 8 MW turbines.
Critical mass close
It is clear that the offshore wind industry now wants to cross the water, with rocket-sized components that are too long and too massive to economically import long term from Europe. If it does, it could easily blow to our shores the skilled local construction and technical jobs and large-scale manufacturing President Trump has promised.

Deepwater Wind was recently cleared to begin a 15-turbine project off Montauk, Long Island, in waters where Deepwater could eventually construct up to 200 turbines.  In December Statoil won the federal lease for a 79,000-acre area of ocean off Long Island’s Jones Beach for a record $42.5 million. 

Besides the competition in North Carolina, Maryland is in the approval stage of offshore wind proposals.  And with Massachusetts now mandating 1,600 MW of offshore wind in its energy portfolio by 2027 and with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushing for 2,400 MW of offshore wind by 2030, the U.S. is about to become part of "the brightest spot in the global clean energy investment picture," as Bloomberg New Energy Finance put it. 

Read more at Is Trump Embracing Offshore Wind?

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