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Clean Power North Carolina offshore wind power

Published on August 17th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Interior Dept Blows Off Koch Stranglehold On Offshore Wind Power

August 17th, 2014 by  

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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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • spec9

    What the heck is wrong with these guys? How can they oppose offshore wind power? Is it just because it will compete with their coal plants? Get bent you polluters.

    • Kyle Field

      or if nothing else, open your eyes to the future business model for your industry. I suppose it’s easy to cling to the current tech as it goes through the death throes than to evolve…ah well, they’ll be dead soon, along with their industry.

  • Matt

    Will feel a lot better when some of the turbine are really in the water.

  • Vensonata

    Now here is something I heard as a direct quote from one of the Koch brother: “in California we sent around a questionnaire with boxes giving people a choice of fossil fuel electricity or green source electricity, the green electricity was 2cents kwhr more. Only 3% ticked the green box…so we abandoned the green idea since nobody cared.” I am paraphrasing from memory, might be slightly off on the number, but what do you think? When I read that I thought, well then, I guess we deserve what we get if Americans are so miserly, and at the same time so wasteful of electricity, that you would burn down a house to poach an egg.

    • Matt

      You need to be careful, many of those check box to get green from utilities fail; because they don’t really impact the power mix. People see it is green washing and ask why should I pay more money when the power mix doesn’t change? And now it doesn’t cost 3 cent per kWh more for new wind verse new coal.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Yeah, I gave my children forms like that where they could tick a box asking them if they would prefer to eat vegetables or chocolate. They were doing really well too until protective services came around last week and rolled them out the door. They gave me some long boring lecture about how I had abused my position of power and influence and neglected to educate my children about the consequences of their actions. Or something along those lines, I didn’t really pay attention. And now I have to go through the trouble of making more children. Does the work never end?

        • vensonata

          Ronald, if you are not making a living as a writer you are wasting your time. Give up that engineering stuff, you are the Kurt Vonnegut of Australia.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Engineer? I’m not an engineer. Not at the moment. I run a recycling business that employees a diverse range of Australians to liberate valuable resources from the waste stream. To be specific, deposit bottles from people’s recycling bins. There was an article about my business in the newspaper recently. Google, “Adelaide man exploits homeless, mentally ill.”

          • Vensonata

            Its 6:44 am and I am already laughing. Thank goodness I had not taken a sip of coffee before I read that.

        • eveee

          I think there is a Benny Hill skit like that, where the answer to the lack of children was, “put more men on the job”. 🙂

    • spec9

      Yeah, I don’t believe that story.

    • Larry

      What interesting wording for the questionnaire. Kind of like asking the convicted murderer if he prefers the electric chair or life in prison. If you ask the question “correctly’ you can be sure of the answer. What kind of bullshit statistics were used to generate that bogus cost differential? Over what time period was that cost differential projected? Someone needs to pour the Kochs down the toilet

      • Vensonata

        Oh the poor Koch brothers, drowning in the toilet…I just can’t look! Thanks for the visuals though.
        I’m afraid though, that ordinary people’s complacency and shopping habits are quite famously a problem when it comes to fixing outrageous environmental catastrophes. It is possible to train them though if you start when they are children. For instance bank robbers might be as unlikely to litter as your average citizen…early childhood training!

  • JamesWimberley

    One silver lining the Kochs have given US electricity consumers with their obsessive delaying tactics is that British consumers are essentially funding offshore wind’s early learning curve, as German ratepayers have done with solar. It will be much cheaper now, though still at a hefty premium to onshore.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Good point. With Europe doing the hard lifting of early offshore development we’ll be able to jump in at a lower initial cost and then add our magic to take the costs down.

      It’s nice, spreading the initial work around. The US took care of onshore wind. Germany (and Spain) drove down the cost of PV. Multiple European countries are funding the offshore nursery. Japan is jumping in with floating platforms. Ireland is getting tidal turbines kicked off. Too bad Australia dropped the ball with enhanced geothermal, but they’ve (temporarily, I hope) descended into Hades.

      • one.second

        Oh yeah, sitting the renewable energy revolution out has worked marvellously for the US, where the money could go to subprime credits, and destroyed Germany, that has strengthened its industrial base. Oh wait…

        • Bob_Wallace

          Destroyed Germany? Have you no clue?

          First, let’s look at what has happened to the wholesale cost of electricity in Germany. Take a look at the graph below. You should notice that the wholesale price of electricity has been falling since Germany started adding renewables to their grid.

          Then let’s consider that Germany tied with the UK and France in terms of highest GDP percentage growth in 2013 and is forecast to show the most economic growth in 2014 and 2014.

          Manufacturing output is on track to grow 4% in 2014. And not a single factory has been identified which has left Germany due to electricity prices.


          Germany has by far the strongest economy in Europe.

    • Kyle Field

      I’m just not content to take the backseat. the US should be a global powerhouse – developing, deploying and reaping the benefits from these renewable technologies. Yes, it’s better than nothing…but dang man, let’s get this thing rolling!

      • Bob_Wallace

        Won’t happen until people turn out at the polls and replace the anti-progress people in Congress.

        Our country has been put on the down slope to becoming ‘just another player’. We’re abandoning our advantages by killing education and research.

  • mk1313

    Go afterthe huge fossil fuel subsidies and the Kochs will be too busy in their own backyard to piss upwind in others! In other words hit’ em where it hurts.

    • Matt

      Can’t do that if you remove a FF subsidy then you are raising taxes. If you remove (refuse to renew) a green subsidy you are leveling the playing field.

      • mk1313

        removing a subsidy is not adding a tax. Not now, not ever! Koch double speak is not acceptable!

        • Bob_Wallace

          It may not be acceptable, but right wing double speak has been accepted for the last couple of decades.

          They’ve been getting away with this kind of crap since the heydays of Speaker Newt.

        • Matt

          Not saying I agree with the double speak just making a observation of where we are. I want FF subsidies removed, a CO2 tax, gas tax raise to pay for the roads, clean air/water laws enforce on NG fracking. But know we are a way from there. My mind says it isn’t going to happen, my heart says we could see a sea change much faster than people expect.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I suspect we’ll get an increase in the federal gas tax – after the November elections. Let the lame duck Congress take the blame.

          • mk1313

            Agree with pretty much everything but FYI the gas tax is already sufficient to do what you stipulate. The problem is it goes into the general fund and gets diverted to other uses.

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