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Published on December 13th, 2017 | by Tina Casey

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Another Embarrassment For Trump, Offshore Wind Energy Edition

December 13th, 2017 by  


Everybody knows that President* Trump is a bit touchy when the conversation turns to offshore wind turbines. However, the President’s opinion has been brushed aside on more than one occasion by his own Cabinet members. The latest example is a case in point. While Trump has regularly talked up his support for the US coal industry, yesterday US Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced $18.5 million in cold, hard cash to support R&D aimed at accelerating the US offshore wind industry.

Yesterday’s wind energy announcement is an unfortunate coincidence of timing for Trump, who suffered another embarrassing defeat last night at the close of Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senator, when the candidate he personally endorsed went down in flames. On top of that, yesterday Trump’s own Ambassador to the United Nations came out in support of efforts to call him to account over accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

More $$$ For US Offshore Wind Development

The new offshore wind technology funding initiative follows close on the heels of another recent move Secretary Perry made in support of the US wind industry, the establishment of a new offshore wind energy R&D consortium.

The new funding will help kickstart the consortium, which is tasked with conducting “U.S.-specific research aimed at reducing the cost of offshore wind in the U.S:”

This consortium will be a cooperative private-public innovation hub addressing topics, including wind plant technology advancement, resource and physical site characterization, installation, operations and maintenance, and supply chain technology solutions.

Well, that’s what you get when you pick a wind energy fan to head up your Energy Department. Perry is well known for shepherding Texas wind energy development during his long tenure as the state’s governor (he is also remembered for his part in Texas’s devastating record on women’s health, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

Even under the Trump administration, Texas is continuing to make history in the US wind industry — at the expense of coal, no less. Here’s a CleanTechnica recap from earlier this month:

Within the next year or so, total wind energy capacity on the state’s power grid will beat coal, and it won’t be a squeaker. According to researchers at the University of Texas, by the end of 2018 wind will be racing ahead with 10,000 megawatts more in capacity than coal.

Ouch!

A Poke In The Eye For Trump, From His Own Energy Secretary

You’d think that Perry would parse his words, considering that Trump made support for the US coal industry a centerpiece of his successful** Presidential campaign. Nevertheless, Perry used the new funding announcement to take a poke at his boss:

“As the former Governor of one of the largest wind producing states, I know the value of wind power in our energy portfolio…This work will further DOE’s goal to accelerate the development of offshore wind technologies by supporting fundamental research to reduce the costs of offshore wind energy to successfully compete in regional energy markets.”

Could that be any more clear? Perry just advocated for “offshore wind energy to successfully compete in regional energy markets.”

That would probably be markets where aging coal power plants are being retired. The closures are mainly due to the availability of cheap natural gas.

That’s not necessarily a good thing in terms of global warming emissions. Be that as it may, natural gas stakeholders have also made the case that compared to coal power plants, gas turbines are a more nimble, flexible fit for an integrated grid that includes a mix of renewables.

That argument may become irrelevant sooner rather than later. In some markets, onshore wind is already beginning to edge out natural gas to replace retired coal plants. It looks like Perry is determined to throw low cost offshore wind into the mix, too. Here’s another snippet from the new funding announcement:

The U.S. is capitalizing on momentum in the nascent offshore wind market, with the nation’s first commercial offshore wind project, the Block Island Wind Farm, and additional projects proposed along America’s coastlines…

So far, so good. The new consortium will focus on cost-reducing offshore wind energy challenges that require a collaborative approach, including supply chain issues, deep water development and improved models for predicting hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

What’s Next For US Coal Industry

Trump’s antipathy to offshore wind can be traced to his efforts to block the development of the Aberdeen wind farm, an important offshore R&D center, located near one of his golf courses in Scotland.

Those efforts failed, and it looks like Trump’s rhetoric on behalf of the US coal industry amounts to more hot air as well.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was supposed to act earlier this week on another one of Perry’s initiatives, a proposed new rate structure designed to protect outdated coal and nuclear power plants even if less expensive alternatives are available.

That proposal may seem weird considering Perry’s strong position on renewables, but it seems that the Energy Secretary has been under marching orders from the Trump Administration to do something, anything, to prop up the US coal industry.

As a result, though, the Perry rate proposal basically amounts to a taxpayer subsidy for 20th century energy technology. It seems tailor-made to stir up tension between Trump’s pro-coal rhetoric and the Republican Party’s anti-tax rhetoric.

With all that in mind, it’s no surprise that a December 11 deadline for the FERC rulemaking decision has come and gone.

In the latest news, earlier this week CleanTechnica noted that Perry has extended FERC’s deadline for the decision by another 30 days.

Shocker!

Now, keep in mind the fact that the new offshore wind announcement is just the tip of a huge iceberg. Perry’s agency has been pumping out torrents of good news about current and prospective streams for low cost renewable energy for months, apparently with his full consent and support. It’s almost like he is deliberately boxing FERC into a corner.

Either the commissioners vote in favor of the new rate structure and stir up trouble in Trump’s hard core base voters, or they decline and the righteous wrath of major Republican donors will rain down upon their heads.

Either way, it looks the string of Trump embarrassments will continue into the second year of his presidency.

Follow me on Twitter.

*As of this writing.

**Whatever.

Image: via US Department of Energy.


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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+.



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