Energy

Are Biden Administration's Offshore Wind Plans Just a Fantasy?

Without attention to the onerous permitting process for offshore wind and other energy projects, efforts will be plagued by costly delays.

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The Department of the Interior plans to auction off leases for offshore wind development all along the nation's coastline.  From a New York Times report:

Speaking at a wind power industry conference in Boston, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that her agency will begin to identify, demarcate and hope to eventually lease federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine and off the coasts of the Mid-Atlantic States, North Carolina and South Carolina, California and Oregon, to wind power developers by 2025.

The announcement came months after the Biden administration approved the nation's first major commercial offshore wind farm off the coast of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts and began reviewing a dozen other potential offshore wind projects along the East Coast. On the West Coast, the administration has approved opening up two areas off the shores of Central and Northern California for commercial wind power development.

Taken together, the actions represent the most forceful push ever by federal government to promote offshore wind development.

This may be "the most forceful push ever" for offshore wind, but it will take far more than offering offshore leases to actually get meaningful amounts of offshore wind development. Offering leases for commercial wind development is but the first step in a long, and often quite expensive and conflict-ridden process.

Silll, there is no guarantee that companies will lease space in the federal waters and build wind farms. Once the offshore areas are identified, they will be subject to lengthy federal, state and local reviews. If the potential sites could harm endangered species, conflict with military activity, damage underwater archaeological sites, or harm local industries such as tourism, the federal government could deem them unsuitable for leasing.

As they have in response to other offshore wind farms, commercial fishing groups and coastal landowners will likely try to stop the projects. In the Gulf of Mexico, where oil and gas exploration is a major part of the economy, fossil fuel companies could fight the development of wind energy as a threat to not only their local operations but their entire business model.

In 2002, federal regulators said that the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound would have all its necessary permits within three years, but it never happened. Local NIMBY activists and other project opponents tied the proposal up in knots for years. Eventually, in 2017, the project's funders gave up. Over fifteen years of investments and efforts could not navigate the regulatory permitting process when faced with concerted opposition.

The news is better here in Ohio, where it looks like LEEDCo's Icebreaker wind project in Lake Erie is nearing the finish line, but it is absurd that this small project, envisioned over a decade ago, has taken so much time and effort. Again, an onerous regulatory environment that makes it easy for project opponents to gum up the works is largely to blame.

To the Administration's credit, a January Executive Order on climate policy identified the need to "review siting and permitting processes on public lands and in offshore waters to identify . . . steps that can be taken, consistent with applicable law, to increase renewable energy production on those lands and in those waters." The new announcement said little about this, beyond pledging to "facilitate a pipeline of projects that will establish confidence for the offshore wind industry." More is necessary.

If meaningful amounts of offshore wind or other renewable energy development, and associated infrastructure, is going to get built, there needs to be far greater attention to the regulatory and permitting processes that delay and obstruct energy projects, including from Congress. Though well-intentioned, these processes are easily weaponized by project opponents. Fostering delay is often enough to kill a project, and to discourage investors from pursuing new ventures. There is also only so much federal agencies can do to fix the problem.

For all the talk about "Building Back Better" and funding green technology through a "Green New Deal," policymakers (and legislators in particular) have given too little attention to the regulatory environment in which such investments will be made. If the Biden Administration wants to truly be effective at fostering investment in and deployment of low-carbon technologies, it will need to devote greater attention to reform of permitting processes, streamlining and rationalizing NEPA reviews, and limiting the ability of small organized groups to throw sand in the regulatory gears.  Indeed, if there were enough attention to making the permitting process more streamlined and certain, there would be more private investment in such projects, and less need for federal government largesse.

In the end, we will know whether Congress is serious about offshore wind and fostering investment in low-carbon energy based on the degree to which it addresses the permitting and regulatory environment. Without such a focus, the rest will just be for show, and we will have little clean energy to show for it.

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  1. “Are Biden Administration’s ____ Plans Just a Fantasy?”

    – is that even a question? Fill in the blank, the answer is yes.

    1. Ironically, the Trump admin was working on rolling back regulations that added cost and time to infrastructure projects. That would have included wind farms.

    2. We can expect the same stellar success as being currently experienced in the UK.

  2. Yes, obviously they’re a fantasy, and it doesn’t have anything to do with onerous regulations. Heck, the only reason anybody would consider building them in the first place is onerous regulations on reliable sources of power!

    1. Reliable sources of power don’t meet their objectives:
      – transfer government money into friendly hands in large amounts
      – punish Americans as a religious sacrifice to The Earth

      It’s a sin to transport fossil fuels in the environmentalist religion, so that precludes most reliable energy generation.

  3. Just think of all the electricity these things can generate during a gulf hurricane!

    1. They will no doubt max out during a Hurricane. When there is a lot of water flowing in the Northwest, the various hydro dams max out generation.

      Problem is: There will also be no demand for electricity during the hurricane because everything shuts down.

      The two fundamental problems with wind: 1) Technology has not really changed in 40 years (its still an alternator with blades); 2)wind blows when electricity demand is the lowest, leading to grid instability.

      1. “max out during a Hurricane.”

        These windmills are shut down during ordinary high winds.

        1. Indeed, they must be.

        2. And even then they sometimes get torn apart by high winds.

          I wonder how far those nice aerodynamic 150 foot windmill blades will travel under hurricane force winds? How much damage would they do to a single family home?

      2. Hydro maxes out during heavy rain, with the excess water going over the spillway.

        Windmills are feathered during a hurricane, and stop producing power at all.

        1. Hydro maxs out in the northwest in April/May when the snowpack melts.

          turbines may get shut down during high winds for grid stability, not necessarily because they cannot generate electricity. A lot of farms continue to run the turbines at a loss (even when there is not enough demand and electricity price are negative) to obtain the tax credit. Wind farms fuck the grid in so many ways.

          1. No, it’s for safety purposes. The blades can only take so much load, and if they didn’t feather them during high winds, they’d break.

            And wind farms, even more than solar, are intended to fuck the grid. The idea is to crash the whole common grid system, make it uneconomical, to force everybody to rely on locally generated power.

            “Renewable” advocates don’t usually talk about that, but you’ll occasionally see cases where they admit that’s the end goal.

            1. solar does not fuck the grid. Solar generates electricity exactly when people are running their air conditioning. If anything, it unfucks the grid.

              1. That’s why I said “even more so”, because the grid actually can absorb a limited amount of solar, which, while not arriving precisely at peak demand, is close enough to smooth out demand a bit. Solar only screws up the grid at higher penetration levels, when instead of displacing peaking power, it starts displacing baseline power.

                Wind screws up the grid at all levels of usage, because it isn’t just unreliable, it’s not in any way synched with demand.

                The problem in California, as I understand it, is that they’re running a bidding market on electricity, where reliability and dispachability aren’t allowed to play into purchasing decisions. If that solar farm is cheaper than your nuke plant for 15 minutes, you’ve got to buy the solar farm output. It’s a system almost perfectly designed to punish reliable baseline power sources.

                1. As Brett notes – “If that solar farm is cheaper than your nuke plant for 15 minutes, you’ve got to buy the solar farm output.”

                  That forced / mandantory take/purchase of wind generated electricity is not counted as a subsidy in the greens playbook of comparing all the subsidies the fossil fuel energy receives vs the few subsidies received by renewable energy.

                  1. If one looks at the German electricity history over the past three years one sees that solar and especially wind has been overbuilt leading to large excesses in peak capacity that forces the spot price of baseload power negative. But the peak capacity has very large swings in magnitude, requiring Germany to buy nuclear power from France and power from soft coal plants in Poland.

                    1. >But the peak capacity has very large swings in magnitude,<

                      same here in the US.
                      the massive power outage for the 72 hours in Texas in Feb 2021 when electric generation from natural gas lost 40% generation (40% loss in generation was for approx 30 hours).

                      What is omitted is that wind and solar electric genration lost 65% -95% over 9 days and that was across the entire north american continent

                    2. Tom,
                      I would expect that similarity to persist even as power from fossil fuel generation is increase to meet the current energy crisis.

      3. The blades have to be feathered when the wind speeds are far hort of a hurricane.
        The off-shore turbines are a serious hazard to water birds. They are also very expensive to build and to maintain and the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) from offshore wind is much higher than that for on-land wind.
        And as dwb says, off-shore wind does not solve the issues of grid instability and may in fact make instability worse.

  4. Wind farm just a money laundering operation, total scam. Too bad silly memorial law professors do not have the intellect necessary to identify a financial scam on the people. More environmental benefits could be achieved by directing the tax credits/federal subsidies to public transportation. Lawyers should learn to keep their mouths shut on topics of which they are clueless. See rules of professional conduct, competence.

    Idiots all.

  5. A far better question would be what does one do with the parts once they have inevitably worn out? Currently, they are landfilled. We won’t have enough space to bury them all.

    That is the problem for most “green” energy projects. They take up far too much land in the mining of the materials, the disposal of the materials, and the footprint of the installations.

    But nobody mentions that.

    1. and the footprint of the installations.

      Only in the world of “green ” is bigger and less efficient better.

    2. Yeah, there is scant discussion about the fact that windmills and solar panels last ~10 years and are not recyclable. Can’t wait for the “environmental” impact studies about the tidal wave of landfill waste that is coming in a few years. It is going to make the fear and loathing about nuclear waste look like good times.

      1. “Can’t wait for the “environmental” impact studies ”
        These are suppressed by the Greta Shitheads of the world.

    3. A problem with most renewable plants is that they are not required to add in the costs of removal and decommissioning unlike the requirements for fossil fuel and nuclear plants. Hence the cost models are both biased and not sustainable.

    4. We have plenty of space to bury it all. This is one of those innumeracy things left over from the 1970s.

      Running out of room was a cover story for Nimby. The math isn’t an issue.

      Also who says blades must go in landfills for ever and ever? Stack them up and recycle them in a hundred years with robots.

      Landfills are a temporary solution, to be fixed with robots in the future. This is obvious but doesn’t enter the discussion because it’s about lawsuits and getting in the way.

  6. There are no ‘wind farms.’ This is industrial power plant construction. The towers stand 70 meters tall and have 50 meter blades. And to make it worth the trouble, there needs to be many, many of them. Both coasts are migratory bird paths, and please note that it is against the law to harm a single migratory bird. These things will kill thousands – every season, north and south.

    Industrial power generation by wind is ‘wind farming’ as baby seal slaughter with spiked clubs is ‘fur farming.’

    1. If that is the case, why are there no piles of dead birds at the bases of these things?

      1. There are. The media just aren’t usually interested in displaying them.

        1. And those are the ones they find. A couple of additional confounding factors:

          1. These are not brick walls — they’re huge levers of immense mass spinning at high speeds, and thus have the potential to fling many of the birds some considerable distance after impact rather than them simply dropping straight down.

          2. We haven’t managed to kill off all their predators yet, so carcasses are unlikely to stick around for long in any great number. Particularly as word gets around about the daily buffet.

          1. 1. I’ve seen a report from a vet who’s done necropsies on birds killed by grid scale wind turbines. Blade impacts aren’t the major problem. The vet said that there is a significant low pressure zone in the wake of the blades and the bird’s/bat’s lungs can’t handle the sudden drop in pressure. Basically, they are mostly dying from what amounts to explosive decompression.

      2. Check the Audubon Society and CA Audubon magazines. As for the offshore turbines, the birds just drop or wash into the ocean

  7. The objective of a project like this isn’t electricity. Big projects are started so the contractors and suppliers working on them get paid. These constituencies desperately hope for “costly delays”.

    The California High Speed Rail project is the poster child for this, but there is no shortage of other examples.

    1. “California High Speed Rail”
      A brain-damaged concept if there ever was one.

      1. They’re still pretending it makes sense and will carry passengers someday. A 4 hour train ride at 2-4x the ticket cost to replace a 70 minute flight.

        1. The train goes from nowhere to nowhere.
          Is there a flight from Bakersfield to Merced?

  8. There is a fraction of “environmentalists” who are basically opposed to any new development, “by any means necessary”. They have not only attacked coal and gas fired generation (for pollution) and distribution (pipelines are the cheapest and by far the safest way to transport oil and gas), they have attacked (hydro-electric generation (for the fish) wind (for the birds) and solar (for the farmers). Other causes are Native Americans ( many of the claims are surely not well grounded in history or fact) and Endangered Species (sometimes of speculative grounds).

  9. Ha ha…try to defend off shore wind farms when Chinese or Russian or who knows who subs surface nearby and fire cruise or hypersonic missles…I only wish Big Tech did that with their server farms..put them offshore on floating barges…easy targets …ha ha

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