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Why Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's sudden affection for offshore wind energy looks more like damage control than a serious change in direction.

Clean Power

What’s Really Behind Zinke’s Big Offshore Wind Energy Speech

Why Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s sudden affection for offshore wind energy looks more like damage control than a serious change in direction.

Last week Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke caused many heads to explode when he told a gathering of wind industry stakeholders that his agency is ready, willing, and able to help pepper the coastal waters of the US with offshore wind turbines. Is this some weird fantasy in which Zinke, who is a super-fan of mineral and fossil energy development, renounces his evil ways and finds new life as a fierce advocate for renewable energy?

Wake up, silly, you’re dreaming! Aside from the fossil fuel thing, allegedly race-based personnel reassignments and other issues, last week Zinke came under fire for potentially violating the Hatch Act. And don’t get us started about Whitefish!

Nevertheless, Zinke really did make a vigorous case for US offshore wind farms last week. So, what is really going on here?

There Is Something Going On…

Zinke took his case for offshore wind to the 2018 offshore International Wind Partnering Forum in Princeton, New Jersey, which was sponsored by the non-profit Business Network for Offshore Wind. The Department of Energy has the rundown on the event:

The Partnering Forum…will bring together more than 130 businesses at a leading U.S. conference for offshore wind. Attendees can connect with the industry’s leading global experts, generate new business opportunities, strengthen the U.S. offshore wind supply chain, and directly shape the industry.

Our Friends over at Long Island Newsday have the scoop on Zinke’s sudden affection for renewables:

Zinke said wind energy was a key part of the Trump administration’s plan for greater energy independence, saying it was “morally the right thing to do” in place of seeking resources in conflict-ridden areas.

He called the offshore wind industry a virtual “blank slate” with “enormous potential.”

His speech included announcement of a formal “call for information and nominations” from companies interested in potential wind energy areas for the New York Bight off Long Island’s South Shore.

Considering Zinke’s recent history with fossil energy development on public land, there’s a quite a lot to chew on there.

…But What?!?

So, here’s what we think is really going on. Zinke wants to keep his job in the Trump Administration, and he wants to have a career after Trump leaves office.

That sounds simple enough, but it’s becoming very difficult to do both at the same time, because (a) an alarming number of Trump Administration appointees have been fired (some via Twitter, no less), forced to resign or just up and left, and (b) if you’re one of those people, chances are that White House experience is not quite the calling card you thought it would be (looking at you, Scott Pruitt).

Fortunately for Zinke, he has a working model to follow. Energy Secretary Rick Perry seems to have perfected the art of talking up fossil energy, talking down climate change, and enthusiastically promoting his agency’s science and clean tech initiatives nonstop all at the same time. In other words, he’s kept his job and he has kept at least some small shreds of professional credibility intact.

Wind power is a case in point. If you look back through the CleanTechnica archive, you’ll see more than a few instances in which the Energy Department has promoted good news about wind power that seriously undermines President* Trump’s fossil energy messaging.

At the beginning of this year the Department of Energy also launched a new effort to let global stakeholders know that the nation is open for wind business.

Now, keep in mind that last March, in the early days of the Trump Administration — right around this time last year, as a matter of fact — Zinke was already talking up his agency’s offshore wind energy lease sale for North Carolina:

The success of this lease sale reflects the continued interest of coastal communities to develop their offshore energy resources…Renewable energy, like offshore wind, is one tool in the all of the above energy toolbox that will help power America with domestic energy, securing energy independence, and bolstering the economy.”

That’s right around the time Zinke and Perry had a get-together, which Zinke was happy to broadcast through his official @SecretaryZinke Twitter account:

Good to have @SecretaryPerry over this evening. Talking energy, infrastructure, and maybe a little football.

Do tell!

In short, Zinke is hedging his bets. After all, wind energy is popular. The Interior Secretary’s recently announced plans for offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic Coast and other areas went over like a lead zeppelin. In that context, last week’s speech amounts to little more than damage control, or maybe greenwashing.

In any case, Zinke has little to lose by talking up Atlantic coast offshore wind and particularly New York-New Jersey opportunities, which  were the focus of his Princeton talk.

Aside from the blistering opposition from Atlantic coast states, last week Zinke cited the region’s lack of infrastructure and the absence of known reserves as factors that would limit the oil and gas industry’s interest in pursuing leases in that region.

More Offshore Wind Farms For The USA

Anyways, enough about Zinke. While he was talking, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did launch two huge new offshore wind energy announcements last week.

First there’s this one, under the headline “BOEM Seeks Information and Industry Interest in Offshore Wind Energy Development within the New York Bight Region:”

In support of the Administration’s priorities to advance domestic energy production, generate revenue, and increase job opportunities nationwide, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is publishing a Call for Information and Nominations (Call) to obtain nominations from companies interested in commercial wind energy leases within the proposed area in the New York Bight.

A bight is a recess in the coastline, btw. Take out your Atlantic Coast map and you’ll see how the ocean turns a corner at New York City and heads off to Long Island after it goes up the the New Jersey coast, and there’s your New York Bight.

The total area under consideration for lease includes about 2,047 square nautical miles divided into four of those “Call” areas, designated as Fairways North, Fairways South, Hudson North, and Hudson South.

The New York announcement grabbed the media spotlight, but even more interesting was the other announcement, which came in under the headline, “Trump Administration Proposes Sale for Wind Energy Off Massachusetts Coast.”

Did you see what they just did there? BOEM took that wind energy announcement and dropped it right in the lap of the “Trump Administration.” Oh, the irony, it burns. How many times during the 2016 presidential campaign did then-candidate Trump make fun of wind energy?

For that matter, in the Massachusetts announcement BOEM seems to go out of its way to foist Obama-era energy policy onto the Trump Administration, even to the extent of using Obama’s “all-of-the-above” language:

Today’s announcement reinforces the Administration’s commitment to an “all-of-the-above” energy portfolio that ensures an energy-secure future. Renewable energy, including offshore wind, is part of this strategy.

So there’s that. The Massachusetts offering involves almost 390,000 acres divided into two lease areas.

Meanwhile, just last week The Houston Chronicle reported that Trump will ask Secretary Perry to declare an “unprecedented” emergency measure that would keep “an entire fleet of money-losing coal and nuclear power plants” in the eastern US from shutting down.

It will be interesting to see where Perry goes with this, so stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter.

*As of this writing.

Photo: via @SecretaryZinke.

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Written By

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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