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Will Offshore Wind Continue To Grow Under Trump?

Offshore Wind

While development of off-shore wind energy in the United States is still relatively small, interest has been growing as technology becomes more available and demand for renewable energy expands. Prospects for an expansion of wind power in the United States may already be hitting a wall, however, as political resistance to new wind farms on the East Coast threatens to derail the growth of renewable energy.

A wind farm constructed off the coast of North Carolina costing around $400 million is meeting resistance from state lawmakers, who have written to the incoming Trump Administration to block the farm from going online. Funded by Amazon, the 104-turbine farm is expected to produce 208-MW and is meant to power Amazon’s data centers in Virginia. The farm is located near the town of Elizabeth City.

Lawmakers are arguing that the farm would interfere with a Navy radar installation in the nearby Chesapeake Bay. One congressman has written to the new secretary of Homeland Security, arguing that the wind farm could pose a threat to national security. It is known that Trump himself opposes wind farms, claiming at one point that they pose a threat to birds.

Others have argued that the opposition is chiefly political, that the North Carolina legislature is opposed to an expansion of renewable energy. The Pentagon has refuted claims that the wind farm would pose a threat to national security. The Department of Defense had delayed the project until November 2014, determining at that point that it would pose no threat to military activities in the area, though it did instruct the developer to reduce the number of turbines from 150 to 104.

Economic development boards in Elizabeth City have also come out in opposition to the legislature, with locals arguing that killing the wind farm would cost locals hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue. Related: Why Big Oil Is Unprepared For The Coming Energy War

On January 18, the out-going Obama Administration set aside over 120,000 acres off the coast of Kitty Hawk NC for potential wind farms, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Offshore wind power, despite providing 11,000 MW of power to Europe, is in its infancy in the United States, where cost, competition and political resistance has restrained development. The Obama Administration’s enthusiasm for renewable energy provided a spur of sorts for the industry, but the new administration could prove entirely less amenable, particularly when local legislatures offer resistance.

So far, one major wind farm has entered operation off the coast of Rhode Island. The farm generates enough power for seventeen-thousand homes, mostly for areas that were originally cut off from major energy supplies. Leases are being sold for a 79,000 acre spot off of New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a development that would see 2400 MW of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to power 1.25 million homes. The move is partially in anticipation of the shut-down of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester Country by 2021.

There has been a slow growth in interest in off-shore wind power, much of it in the last year. Sales administered by the BOEM has generated $58 million. Related: Can Saudi Arabia Survive With Oil Below $60?

Leases for the land offered up off the coast have already attracted attention from major developers. Shell is reportedly becoming more interested in green energy, as it transitions away from conventional oil towards natural gas and other fuel sources. In December it won a bid to construct a 700 MW offshore wind farm in the Netherlands, working in partnership with other, more specialized firms.

Now, Shell has been shortlisted for the new North Carolina leases, which will be awarded on 16 March. Statoil is among the other eight companies to be shortlisted, and the Norwegian firm has been expanding its own presence in off-shore wind, securing a lease in New York in December.

The opposition to the Rhode Island wind farm stemmed primarily to locals’ dissatisfaction at the farm’s location. Opposition from the North Carolina state legislature may be driven by similar concerns, or it may simply be a sign of the legislators’ support for the incoming Trump Administration, which seems likely to favor conventional oil and gas over renewables. It’s uncertain whether the current slow momentum in off-shore wind in places like North Carolina, New York and Rhode Island will prove lasting.

By Gregory Brew for Oilprice.com

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