Construction of offshore wind turbines. (Courtesy of Orsted)
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is making a significant push for new offshore wind development to meet ambitious climate goals, but industry leaders say they also need long-term commitments and support from Congress to reach their potential.
Leaders of the burgeoning U.S. offshore wind industry called on Congress to invest in renewables at a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel Thursday.
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The hearing comes as the Biden administration aims to ramp up offshore wind development from pilot projects to a viable power source. It is an opportunity for Democrats to address two major goals: reducing carbon emissions and creating jobs.
The Biden administration set an ambitious goal earlier this year to generate 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by the end of the decade, enough to power more than 10 million homes and cut 78 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s roughly the carbon equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road for a year.
The United States currently only produces 42 megawatts of power from offshore wind. The nascent industry here trails far behind Europe and Asia, where it has been developing for years and offshore wind turbines are producing 34,000 megawatts of power.
“Europe has had several decades to build the infrastructure needed to support a mature offshore wind industry, and although we’re making considerable progress to building a U.S. supply chain, it remains a challenge that needs regulatory certainty and incentives if we want to achieve the goal of 30 gigawatts by 2030 and reach our potential,” said David Hardy, CEO of Orsted Offshore North America.
Orsted, a company that started in Denmark, operates the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island and is involved in the new projects off the coast of Maryland and with Dominion Energy in Virginia.
The offshore wind industry is poised for massive growth over the next decade.
Dominion Energy, a Virginia utility, plans to install nearly 200 more ocean turbines east of Cape Henry over the next five years. And developers have permits pending for 10 more offshore wind projects along the East Coast, from North Carolina to Maine.
Last week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced plans for her agency to hold seven new offshore lease sales by 2025, for areas in the Gulf of Maine, central Atlantic, off the coast of North and South Carolina, California, Oregon and New York.
As the industry ramps up, it is supporting inland manufacturing jobs for ships and materials, including projects already underway in Louisiana, New Jersey and Texas.
But with the steep cost of starting a project, leaders want to know they won’t be subject to the political winds.
“We need certainty and predictability,” said Heather Zichal, the chief executive officer of the American Clean Power Association.
Specifically, the renewable energy industry wants lawmakers to support tax credits, research programs at the Department of Energy, a national offshore wind transmission plan and upgrades to ports.
House Democrats’ infrastructure package has incentives for offshore wind and would build out transmission lines for renewable energy, including offshore wind. Negotiators are in the process of trimming the package to lower its price tag, but Democrats at the hearing said they hope to continue to support renewables.
“We can’t rely on existing trends or wishful thinking to get us to net zero electricity sector emissions, and that is why investments in the Build Back Better Act are so critical in our efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Offshore wind is good for workers, good for the economy and especially good for the planet,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.).
“The U.S. offshore wind industry is a game changer for renewable energy and our efforts to combat climate change,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).
Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette, alluding to misleading characterizations of wind power’s capacity to withstand cold weather earlier this year when Texas experienced rolling blackouts amid frigid temperatures, asked Hardy about the performance of wind turbines in extremely cold environments, such as the North Atlantic.
“The turbines are designed to operate in those environments and we haven’t had any significant issues with any reliability,” Hardy said.
In fact, he said, offshore wind turbines yield the most power during cold winter seasons, because it’s during winter storms that the wind blows the most. This can offset the need for other sources of energy.
But the partisan divide on investment in renewables was on display at the hearing, as Republican members of the committee complained that their panel would even consider a hearing on offshore wind at time of rising energy prices and concerns about further strain in the winter months.
“While I am optimistic that technology and American ingenuity will bring advancement in offshore wind, I believe this committee should be focused on how to lower energy prices in the near term,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the Republican leader of the subcommittee.
“Folks, I think the windmill hearing could have waited,” said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).
Florida Democrat Kathy Castor pushed back against that perspective, noting that the costs of climate change are also significant.
“Anyone who is concerned about the rising costs and risks on American families and businesses should be pressing for ambitious investments in clean energy,” Castor told her colleagues.
Hardy, the CEO of Orsted, said the investment and commitment for offshore wind needs to be for the long term.
“I think it is important to recognize this is a long-term play, a long-term solution, and we’re making investments now that will make us competitive and less reliant on carbon fuels in the long-term,” said Hardy. “We are not going to solve a 2021 winter crisis with offshore wind, but we might prevent a crisis in 2026 or 2029 if we invest now.”
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