US President* Donald Trump was never all that serious about saving the US coal industry, and now that the new year is underway he seems to have forgotten about it altogether. The latest news from the Department of Energy is a case in point: the agency is busily prepping for more offshore wind farms in the stormy waters off the US Atlantic coast, and it just won an important legal battle that could speed up the construction of onshore wind energy transmission lines.
More Offshore Wind Farms For The USA
The relatively shallow waters of the Atlantic coast present an alluring target for wind development, except for that little detail about hurricanes. With that in mind, the Department of Energy has been working on a raft of strategies to ensure that offshore wind turbines can survive whatever Mother Nature throws their way.
The Energy Department laid out its plans in a new blog post that randomly appeared just last week on the web page for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Random, as in for no apparent reason. The post does not cover any breaking news, but it does bring up an important point:
…13,000 megawatts of offshore wind has been deployed worldwide, yet the U.S. only has one commercial offshore wind farm in operation.
The reasons for the lag are primarily engineering in nature off the Pacific coast, where deep water poses technological challenges (see our previous reporting for other marine energy projects geared to Pacific waters).
On the Atlantic coast, plain old politics is one major story element behind the slow pace of US offshore wind development (see: Christie, Chris among many others). That obstacle began to fall away when the Obama Administration commenced an offshore wind area lease program.
For whatever reason — perhaps simply because someone has not been paying attention — the lease program has continued moving forward during the Trump administration, despite the implications for the future of US coal power generation.
Evidently the Department of Energy is not content to let the lease program simply drift under its own momentum. Last November the agency announced the formation of a new consortium aimed at accelerating offshore wind development, and in December the agency announced a new funding round of $18.5 million in support of the US offshore wind industry,
That brings us to the timing of last week’s blog. Improvements in offshore wind turbine durability would help stimulate investor interest and accelerate the pace of offshore development, so we’re thinking that the blog post sends a loud, clear signal that the Trump Administration is willing to continue plowing taxpayer dollars into offshore wind turbine R&D (noting that Trump likely doesn’t care what DOE is up to, as long Perry continues to meet the President’s rather high expectations in the fawning department).
Modern wind turbines already have advanced systems for locking down and “feathering” turbine blades to prevent damage. The blog post outlines strategies for preventing damage to the turbine foundations.
One approach, ironically enough, is a “twisted jacket” foundation used for offshore oil and gas rigs. Back in 2014 the Department of Energy allocated funds for applying the technology to an experimental wind turbine off the New Jersey coast, but with then-governor Chris Christie seated in Trenton the whole thing died on the vine.
Don’t be surprised if the project revives sometime soon. Trump or no Trump, DOE has not lost interest its enthusiasm for promoting offshore wind, the state’s new governor is a renewable energy fan, and wind industry stakeholders are already gearing up to take advantage of the situation.
More Wind Energy Transmission For The USA
Meanwhile over in the US interior, the company Clean Line Energy has massive transmission plans for bringing electricity from wind-rich midwestern states to points elsewhere.
As with offshore wind, that development has lagged partly due to political factors. Local environmental issues and property rights are also in play.
During President Obama’s last year in office in 2016, the Department of Energy stepped in with an initiative aimed at skirting around state-based approval processes for the company’s Plains & Eastern Line. The idea was to for DOE to exercise — for the first time — its authority to assist in the development of transmission lines under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In effect, DOE’s involvement would take land acquisition out of the hands of state authorities.
Shortly after DOE became involved the project manager for Plains & Eastern, Andrew Goodman of GE, got on the phone with me. Expressing confidence that the maneuver would hold up in court, he and had this to say:
“We strongly believe that renewables, over time, will replace fossil fuels…there will be more need for bulk transmission to bring [clean power] to areas without renewables.”
Okay, so what happened?
Last week, our friends over at Renewable Energy World reported that DOE’s authority under the 2005 law has withstood its first big court challenge.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the project will proceed full steam ahead, as the reporting makes clear that market forces will ultimately decide its fate.
Be that as it may, the point is that despite paying ample lip service to the US coal industry, Trump continues to sit by while his own Department of Energy pursues a path that spells death for coal jobs, and more trouble ahead for coal miners, their families and their communities.
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Photo: via US Department of Energy.