Clean energy activities should be encouraged from Biden’s offshore wind plan

The struggling power grid in the United States is finally getting some big upgrades. Last week, the Biden administration announced a plan that, among other efforts, would aim to bring more clean energy sources online and install more high-voltage transmission cables across the country to transport that energy where needed.

On the surface, it appears the plan is based solely on what Biden did when he signed the bipartisan infrastructure law into November. Parts of the framework published last week focus on the net-rigorous details that can brighten your eyes, such as how to improve the efficiency of reviewing clean energy projects on government land and vague mentions of supporting clean energy expansion in rural areas. . But we should really pay attention to Biden’s goals for offshore wind power, which is an important source of energy for regions like the Northeastern United States where space and not enough sunlight depend on solar energy. It is here that the new plan goes from mundane to ambitious and may be an indicator of how the administration seeks to address issues related to climate change, energy and jobs at the same time.

Coastal wind power generation works in the same way as land-based wind turbines (the wind rotates the turbine blades around a rotor, which rotates a generator to generate electricity) – only offshore turbines are buried dozens of miles off the coast, where they are powerful. Can catch sea air. These winds are something that is abundant in the North Atlantic, which is why the Biden administration is focusing its initial offshore wind efforts there.

To date, there are only seven offshore wind turbines in the United States – five at Rhode Island’s Block Island wind farm and two more set up for testing in Virginia. But on February 23, the federal government will auction offshore wind leases to utility or offshore wind energy developers in an ocean area called New York Byte, off the coast of New York and New Jersey. The lessees will then be able to set up wind farms in the area that generate up to 7 gigawatts of power – enough to power about 2 million homes – which will require 600 to 700. Turbine

“Coastal winds in the Western Hemisphere have never seen anything like this,” Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Recode.

Offshore wind energy has historically been the perimeter of Europe, having already built 25 gigawatts of offshore wind power over the past few decades. The upcoming 7-gigawatt lease auction brings renewable energy generation to the Northeast in a meaningful way and is the first of many: the Biden administration says it wants to scale offshore wind production to 30 gigawatts by 2030. While this is still a fraction of the 1,000 gigawatts Americans use each year, it is still a major contribution that will help move the country away from coal- or natural-gas-fired power plants.

Importantly, the biden plan is not about increasing clean energy production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; It also opens the door to an economy built around clean energy. For these 600 or 700 wind turbines people need to make turbine components, send them to sea and maintain them once set up. To make this happen, the White House and the Department of Transportation aim to create about 80,000 offshore wind-related jobs by 2030 by investing in ports across the East Coast – some inland as far as Albany, New York, from where parts of the turbines will be shipped. New York bytes down the Hudson River.

“The administration understands that energy is at the heart of an integrated problem,” said Alexandra von Meyer, director of the electrical grid program at the California Institute for Energy and the Environment at UC Berkeley. “It’s about human well-being and work.”

It’s also a clever political move: a plan tied to the fate of 80,000 jobs (currently nearly double the number of coal jobs in the country) offshore could keep Republicans from winning in 2024. Nevertheless, Biden’s plan may fail, depending on the outcome of the upcoming election. Although the lease sale will take place in February, the permitting process alone can take up to three years, after which it will take another two years to build the turbines. This is more than enough time for a climate-denying Home Secretary to throw a wrench into a plan with different political goals.

Four large, white offshore wind turbines can be seen in seawater through the yellow support strut of a fifth turbine.

Wind turbines at Rhode Island’s Block Island Wind Farm, which generates enough energy to power 17,000 homes.
Via Don Emmert / AFP Getty Images

Coastal winds are not without its opponents. In New England, local fishermen allied with an oil industry lobbying group in December to oppose Vineyard Wind, a proposed 84-turbine wind farm near Cape Cod, Massachusetts; A lawsuit filed by the fishing industry is still making its way through the courts. Fishermen say turbines can negatively affect marine life. They are also concerned that the turbine tower could interfere with the radar, while the no-cell safety zone around the turbine could affect the ability to reach the fishing area. The long-term effects of wind turbines on marine life are not yet clear, but a study in Europe’s North Sea found that turbine bases could act as artificial walls for animals such as oysters. Late last year, the Department of Energy awarded Duke University a 7.5 million grant to study the effects of coastal winds on marine life, the results of which will provide a complete picture of how turbines can affect fish farming. Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is looking for solutions, which is why the New York Byte sales notice includes provisions to assist fishermen, such as the 2.8-mile-wide transit lane for fishing vessels.

The challenges do not end there: even if wind turbines are built, and even if their potential impacts on marine life are minimized, the energy they produce must be somewhere to go. Transmission lines – the high-voltage cables you see in the country’s wide-spread steel struts – are usually made by regional transmission companies, and Jacobs says they may not have enough power to carry all the power generated by these new turbines. .

Germany faced exactly this problem in 2020, when the lack of transmission capacity in northern Germany meant that the region had to send some of its wind power to neighboring countries. “There was a lot of offshore wind on their beach,” Jacobs said. “And then the German utility industry said, ‘Oh, we weren’t really ready for that.'”

The Biden administration seems to want to avoid a similar situation in the United States. That’s why the Bilateral Infrastructure Act includes funding for transmission lines, and the administration has announced that the Department of Energy is launching an initiative called Building a Better Grid that will serve as a kind of central planning authority for grid improvement. But it is unclear if that transmission buildout will occur during offshore winds in New York Byte – and the administration does not mention distribution lines or low-voltage cables that bring electricity to homes and businesses. Kiri Baker, an assistant professor of engineering at Boulder University in Colorado, explains that these are usually made by local utilities in the United States and are often replaced when they become completely inoperable.

“You can have all the clean power and all the high-voltage lines you want, but without an elastic distribution grid, we’re still going to have life-threatening power outages,” Baker told Ricode via email. Extreme weather conditions are on the rise. “

Still, Von Meyer is optimistic. Adding green energy to jobs and new transmission lines that will better hold on to climate change, he said, is an exciting first step. The Biden administration “understands that there is a real triple need to address climate change, address resilience and address equity. And I think they understand that there is an opportunity for clean energy to deal with these three together. “

This story was first published in the Recode newsletter. Register here So don’t miss the next one!

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