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US Interior Department sidesteps Koch brothers lobbying efforts, designates three new offshore wind power development areas on the Atlantic Coast.

Clean Power

Interior Dept Blows Off Koch Stranglehold On Offshore Wind Power

US Interior Department sidesteps Koch brothers lobbying efforts, designates three new offshore wind power development areas on the Atlantic Coast.

The good news for US Atlantic coast offshore wind power just keeps rolling along. Earlier this year, renewable energy fans in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Jersey got to see some progress despite Koch (and Koch-related) obstacles in the path of commercial offshore wind power development. Now it’s North Carolina’s turn. While state governor Pat McCrory has become notorious for his ties to the Koch anti-renewable lobbying efforts, the Interior Department has gone ahead and designated a total of 307,590 acres off the coast of North Carolina for potential offshore wind energy development.

Interior’s latest offshore wind energy announcement came through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last week, and it’s yet another piece of evidence that the powerful Koch lobbying machine in North Carolina (and elsewhere, for that matter) could be headed for a mighty fall.

North Carolina offshore wind power

North Carolina offshore wind energy areas (courtesy of US DOI).

Ups And Downs For Atlantic Offshore Wind Power

For a bit of context, check back to June 2010, when the Obama Administration organized the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. The goal was to accelerate the development of America’s vast offshore wind power resources and catch us up with the global offshore wind industry.

The original list of signers-on to the Consortium were Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Virgina.

That high level of participation was a great start (South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida apparently agreed to some level of participation short of signing on to a Memorandum of Understanding for offshore wind development), but things pretty much stalled out after that, at least until this year.

The project with the smoothest sailing so far is the 30 MW Block Island project in Rhode Island. While only a modestly scaled pilot project, it could become part of a planned 1,000 megawatt behemoth. It finally has a firm completion date of 2016, pushed back from 2011. In this context it’s worth noting that the Koch brothers have lobbied in Rhode Island through their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Next up is the massive Cape Wind project in Massachusetts. After years of legal delays funded largely by William Koch (the “invisible” Koch brother), Cape Wind won a huge victory earlier this year enabling it to move forward.

Another card about to fall is New Jersey. The state’s governor, Chris Christie, was famously caught on tape pledging support for the Koch efforts back in 2011, so it’s no surprise that wind stakeholders in New Jersey have been drawing attention to his stallout on the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium promise.

However, earlier this year the Energy Department took matters into its own hands. It threw New Jersey into a three-state, $141 million pot of three offshore wind energy projects designed to develop new cutting edge technology. New Jersey’s share of the pie is a cluster of five 5MW turbines off the coast of Atlantic City.

It’s worth noting here that another one of the three projects goes to Consortium member Virginia. The third project is located in Oregon.

Meanwhile, it’s also worth noting that while South Carolina gave a weak handshake to the Consortium back in 2010, the Obama Administration figured out a way around that one, too. Last year the Energy Department chipped in $45 million for the state to develop the nation’s largest and most advanced wind turbine testing facility. South Carolina also happens to be one of the nation’s leading centers for wind turbine manufacturing, but we digress.

Offshore Wind Power For North Carolina

The Koch lobbying effort has been highly active in North Carolina, but it looks like the offshore wind thing is going to happen there, too.

The latest Obama Administration wind announcement (here’s that link again) defines three Wind Energy Areas named Kitty Hawk (122,405 acres), Wilmington West (51,595 acres), and Wilmington East (133,590 acres).

While the sites still have to pass environmental assessments, Interior has taken steps to minimize future Koch-style legal hurdles by pre-clearing the designated areas:

Consistent with the Interior Department’s ‘Smart from the Start’ strategy for offshore wind, each of the three Wind Energy Areas has been designed to make available areas that are attractive for commercial offshore wind development, while also protecting important viewsheds [note: that would be the Koch thing, regarding Cape Wind], sensitive habitats and resources and minimizing space use conflicts with activities such as military operations, shipping and fishing.

North Carolina Offshore Wind Power And Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The Southeastern Coastal Wind Coalition was disappointed with the “exceptionally wide” visual buffers provided for in the Wind Energy Area designations, but the organization anticipates that lessons learned in these first three areas will pave the way for more leeway in future designations.


With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the economic potentials of wind energy exploitation cited by the Coalition, based on data supplied by federal agencies (edited for brevity and clarity, and breaks added):

1. North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia have 82 percent of the total Atlantic coast wind resource in shallow water and more than 12 miles offshore (not counting Florida).

2. The five Southeastern coastal states (including Florida) represent five of the six largest electricity markets on the Atlantic coast with high per-capita electricity consumption.

3. These five states account for five of the six fastest growing populations, on the Atlantic coast, indicating above average electricity demand growth.

4. North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia have the lowest construction costs for offshore wind energy of all the East Coast states (not including Florida).

5. Wind energy, and particularly offshore wind, is well-suited to the vertical integration model followed by utilities in the Southeast.

Now take a quick look at the Coalition’s members and you’ll see why the Koch lobbying effort is  running against the wind (ohhhhh…sorry) now.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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