Friday, July 13, 2018

Are you kidding? Trump helping off-shore wind energy?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at an offshore wind conference in New Jersey in April.

Editor's Note: If you follow the normal course of politics, you can no longer doubt that our congress and president, returning from their annual campaign pilgrimages to the pay windows of Big Oil, Big Gas, and Big Coal, will fully renew their pledges to serve and protect the mighty, fossil-fuel gods--until the earth's final, scorching or drowning days. But what's this? Now we read (in the E&E News piece below) that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Trumpsman who wants to drill every square foot of American coastal waters (save Greater Mar a Lago) is making nice in speeches about off-shore wind energy. Hmmm. Something's not right here. Did a meteor slightly jar earth's spin while we were all watching the World Cup? If you have a theory, mouse over to our Facebook page and share it. -- Frank Brill 

Saqib Rahim reports for E&E News

In April, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to an offshore wind conference in Princeton, N.J., to give remarks on "energy dominance."

It was a charged moment to be giving the speech. Three months prior, the Trump administration had proposed to open 90 percent of federal waters to oil and gas leasing. Zinke had offered to exempt Florida, prompting an outcry from liberal Northeast states like New Jersey that wanted to move away from fossil fuels.

What Zinke said, to many raised eyebrows in the audience, was that offshore wind, just like oil and gas, fit into the "energy dominance" framework. He said if a state chose wind, it had a friend in the White House.

One audience member said the tone was "almost apologetic."

"Of the current energy portfolio, probably wind has the greatest opportunity for growth," said Zinke. "Let's make American energy great. Let's make sure we make wind energy great."

One could easily have imagined a different tone. Zinke, after all, worked for an administration that has cast doubt on climate science, rolled back Obama-era regulations on carbon pollution, and worked to subsidize coal and nuclear plants.

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Offshore wind, after more than a decade of development under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, could hardly have been a juicier target. The young industry hadn't yet found a footing in the U.S., and it will need heavy subsidies to get started. For the Northeast states advancing it, most of which had sued over Trump's climate policies, climate wasn't a side issue; it's the point.

But instead of following the same pattern of conflict and lawsuits, offshore wind is on the brink of arrival. A year and a half into the Trump administration, with upheaval all around the U.S. energy world, offshore wind is benefiting from an oddly cooperative dynamic between states and the federal government. The projects envisioned under Obama are moving toward fruition, and if trends hold, the U.S.'s first utility-scale offshore wind project could be under construction by the end of Trump's first term and operational in 2021.

In Maryland and Massachusetts, regulators have approved financing for two installations of 368 and 800 megawatts, respectively. New Jersey and New York are laying the policy groundwork for 5,900 MW more. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Virginia are exploring projects and policies of their own.

It's happened not despite, but thanks to, the help of the U.S. government, offshore wind advocates admit.

"Yeah, I can't explain it myself," said Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I think as a whole, this administration has a lot of people that are probably not actually anti-renewable as much as 'all-of-the-above' advocates ... [t]hey don't care about the environmental aspect of it. That's not what's driving them. But this is [potentially] a big American industry."

"I think the administration rightly sees offshore wind as a power source that can help us achieve energy independence and security ... and also dominance in the global economy," said Stephanie McClellan, director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind at the University of Delaware. "I don't want to say it's not a surprise, but it's fitting."

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