A constellation of 5,400 offshore wind turbines covers a growing part of Europe’s energy needs. The United States did exactly seven.
With more than 14,000 miles of coastline, the country offers plenty of places to tear down turbines. But legal, environmental, and economic obstacles and even vanity stood in the way.
President Biden wants to catch up quickly – in fact, his goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depend on it. Still, there are many problems, including a shortage of boats big enough to take the huge equipment out to sea, fishermen worried for their livelihoods, and wealthy folks feared that the turbines might take away the unspoiled views of theirs Cloudy villas by the water. There’s even a centuries-old, politically explosive federal law known as the Jones Act that prevents wind farm developers from using American ports to launch foreign construction ships.
Offshore turbines are useful because the winds at sea are stronger and more steady than on land. The turbines can be placed so far that they are not visible from land, but still close enough to cities and suburbs that they do not require hundreds of kilometers of expensive transmission lines.
The Biden administration wants up to 2,000 turbines in the water in the next eight and a half years. Officials recently approved a project near Martha’s Vineyard that languished during the Trump administration and announced support for large wind farms off the California coast in May. The $ 2 trillion infrastructure plan proposed by Mr Biden in March would also increase incentives for renewables.
The cost of offshore wind turbines has fallen by around 80 percent over the past two decades, to as low as $ 50 per megawatt hour. Although they are more expensive per unit of energy than onshore solar and wind parks, offshore turbines are often economically viable due to the lower transmission costs.
“Solar in the east is slightly more of a challenge than in the desert west,” said Robert M. Blue, chairman and CEO of Dominion Energy, a major utility working on a wind farm with nearly 200 turbines off the coast of Virginia. “We have set ourselves a net zero target for our company by 2050. This project is essential to achieve these goals. “
The slow pace of offshore wind development underscores the trade-offs between urgently tackling climate change and Mr Biden’s other goals of creating well-paying jobs and protecting local habitats. The United States could push through more projects if it were willing, for example, to lift the Jones Act’s protections for domestic shipbuilding, but that would undermine the president’s promises of employment.
These difficult questions cannot be solved simply by federal spending. As a result, it could be difficult or impossible for Mr Biden to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector by 2035 and achieve net zero emissions across the economy by 2050 as he would like.
“I think the clear fact that other places have jumped on us is important,” said Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that rents federal waters to wind developers. “We won’t be able to build offshore wind power if we don’t have the right investments.”
Europe’s head start means that it has built a thriving complex of turbine construction, shipbuilding and skilled labor. Therefore, the USA could be dependent on European components, suppliers and ships for years.
Installing giant offshore wind turbines – General Electric’s largest one is eight feet – is a difficult job. Ships with cranes that can lift more than a thousand tons transport large components out to sea. At their destinations, legs are lowered into the water to raise the ships and bring them to a standstill while they work. Few ships can handle the largest components, and that’s a big problem for the United States.
A 1,600 mile round trip to Canada.
Lloyd Eley, a project manager, helped build nuclear submarines early in his career and has been with Dominion Energy for the past eight years. None of this prepared him properly to oversee the construction of two wind turbines off the coast of Virginia.
Mr Eley’s biggest problem was the Jones Act, which requires that ships sailing from a US port to any location within the country, including its waters, be manufactured and registered in the United States and owned by Americans and need to be occupied.
The largest ships built in the U.S. designed for offshore construction are approximately 185 feet long and can, according to a. lift about 500 tons Government Accountability Bureau Report December published. This is far too small for the huge components that Mr. Eley’s team worked with.
So Dominion rented three European ships and operated them in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of them, the Vole au Vent from Luxembourg, is 140 meters long and can lift 1,654 tons.
Mr. Eley’s crew waited weeks in a row for the European ships to travel more than 800 miles each direction to the port. The installations took a year. In Europe it would be ready in a few weeks. “It was definitely a challenge,” he says.
The US shipping industry has not invested in the ships needed to transport large wind turbines because there have been so few projects here. The first five offshore turbines were installed near Block Island in 2016, while the two R.I. Dominion were installed last year.
Had it not been for the Jones Act – it was enacted after World War I to ensure the country could mobilize ships and crews during the war and in emergencies – Dominion could have moved European ships out of Virginia’s ports. The law is sacrosanct in Congress, and unions and other proponents argue that repealing it would cut thousands of shipyard and boat jobs and make the United States dependent on foreign companies.
Demand for large ships could increase significantly over the next decade as the US, Europe and China pursue ambitious offshore wind targets. According to Dominion, only eight ships worldwide can transport the largest turbine parts.
Dominion is spending $ 500 million on a ship built in Brownsville, Texas that can haul large wind turbines. Named after a sea monster from Greek mythology, Charybdis, the ship will be 144 meters long and lift 2,200 tons. It will be ready by the end of 2023. The company said the ship, which it will also be renting out to other developers, would be roughly inexpensive to install 200 more turbines through 2026. Dominion spent $ 300 million on the first two but is hoping the others will cost $ 40 million each.
Fishermen fear for their livelihood.
For the past 24 years, Tanger Island resident Tommy Eskridge has made a living catching clams and crabs off the coast of Virginia.
Among other things, he works where Dominion wants to place its turbines. Federal regulators have adjusted the distance between turbines to one nautical mile to create wider lanes for fishermen and other boats, but Mr Eskridge, 54, fears the turbines could harm his catch.
The area has produced up to 7,000 pounds of mussels a day, although Mr Eskridge said a typical day produced about half that amount. A pound can make 2 to 3 dollars, he said.
Mr Eskridge said the company and regulators had not done enough to show that installing turbines would not harm his catch. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do.”
Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which includes hundreds of fishing groups and companies, fears the government will not study the proposals and plan appropriately.
“What they do is say, ‘Let’s take what we’ve really never done here, go all in, objectors are damned,'” Ms. Hawkins said. “From a fisheries point of view, we know that there will be massive displacement. You can’t just go fishing elsewhere. “
Fishing groups refer to recent problems in Europe to justify their concerns. For example, Orsted, the world’s largest offshore wind developer, has filed for an injunction to keep fishermen and their equipment out of an area of the North Sea that is designed for new turbines while it is exploring the area.
Orsted said it tried to “work with fishermen” but asked for the contract because its job was made difficult by equipment a fisherman left in the area that he could not identify. “In order to conduct the survey work safely and only as a last resort, we had no choice but to secure the right to remove this device,” the company said in a statement.
When the developers first applied for approval for Cape Wind, a project between Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, in 2001, opposition was fierce. Opponents included Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who died in 2009, and William I. Koch, an industrialist.
Nobody wanted the turbines to block the view of the coast from their resorts. They also argued that the project would block 16 historical sites, disrupt fishermen, and clog waterways used by humpback whales, pilot whales, and other whales.
After years of legal and political disputes, the developer of Cape Wind gave up in 2017. But long before that happened, Cape Wind’s problems terrified energy managers considering offshore wind.
Projects along the east coast are in similar struggles. Residents of the Hamptons, the affluent enclave, opposed two wind development areas and the federal government put the project on hold. On the New Jersey coast, some Homeowners and businesses are fighting off offshore wind because they fear it could increase their electricity prices, disrupt whales and affect the area’s leech fisheries.
Energy managers want the Biden government to mediate such conflicts and expedite permit approval.
“It was artificially, incrementally slow because of some inefficiencies on the federal approval side,” said David Hardy, CEO of Orsted North America.
Renewable energy advocates said they were hopeful because the country added many wind turbines onshore – 66,000 in 41 states. They delivered more than 8 percent Electricity in the country last year.
Ms. Lefton, the federal water lease regulator, said future offshore projects would move faster as more people realized the dangers of climate change.
“We have a climate crisis ahead of us,” she said. “We have to switch to clean energy. I think that will be a great motivation. “