What Obstacles Are Faced by the U.S. to Build Offshore Wind Power?
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What Obstacles Are Faced by the U.S. to Build Offshore Wind Power?

By Energy CIO Insights | Monday, May 25, 2020

Wind power is one of the cleanest forms of energy and the U.S. is trying for years to launch a big project, but has failed due to many obstacles.

Fremont, CA: The strong winds blowing off the coast of Massachusetts have always attracted companies with visions of generating clean, emission-free electricity. The latest company in the list is Vineyard Wind LLC who aims to install 84 Liberty-size turbines about 15 miles off the state’s shoreline, which would collectively generate enough energy to power 400,000 homes by 2022. The project hit a roadblock when the U.S. Department of the Interior ordered an analysis how Vineyard Wind along with 14 other potential companies will affect the $1.4 billion worth fishing industry and the Eastern seaboard. The additional review has also affected the companies that support Vineyard Wind, Avangrid Inc., and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, who were planning to begin construction shortly.     

The review was a blow to the budding U.S. offshore wind industry, which has witnessed the failure of Cape Wind. The project collapsed in 2017 after a 16-year-old long legal battle with billionaire industrialists over its location. So, Vineyard Wind must fight a lot of battles to bring the project live. The U.S. is placed second in the onshore wind power capacity behind China. However, it is behind China, the U.K., and Germany in taking advantage of the mighty gusts at sea. Despite a lot of efforts to launch the project, the U.S. wind sector has witnessed very little success in the form of a wind farm near Block Island, R.I., which generates 30MW electricity.

The U.S. is witnessing a surge in the enthusiasm for offshore wind development. Densely populated cities with significant energy demands are eager to make bigger commitments to purchase foreign wind power from coastal projects that are in planning stages.  The Interior Department is auctioning more leases near New York and California and is reviewing construction plans for five of the 15 offshore wind leases. These projects are not live as they require rigorous environmental reviews once they secure federal leases and before they can be granted construction permits.  Further, additional state and local authorizations are needed for turbines and the undersea cables that send power to the shore.

The goals set by the state provide a transparent market for developers. However, the purposes alone cannot solve the development hurdles faced by the project. After the failure of Cape Wind, the developers and regulators have moved the leases farther offshore, this has pushed the turbines from the sight of coastal residents. Still, it has placed them in the middle of the fishing territory. Former President Barack Obama tried to launch offshore wind development by allowing companies to define their leases and by shifting environmental reviews later. However, the result was not as intended. Commercial fishing groups took a legal stance regarding a wind energy lease, which is south of Long Island, arguing about the lack of environmental analysis by the government before selling it for $42.5 million. 

Along with the current challenges, new obstacles keep on surfacing. The Pentagon is against installing wind turbines off the coast of Southern California, arguing that it can interfere with Navy training missions. Environmentalists, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, have taken measures to protect the endangered North American right whale. Lawmakers in Congress have proposals to block wind projects in coastal transportation corridors that interfere with existing leases. Thus, offshore wind power faces a lot of challenges in the U.S.   

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