US Offshore Wind Upends Plans For Saving Coal & Nuclear Power Plants

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If the latest news out of the US Department of Energy is any indication, the Trump Administration’s newest stratagem for keeping old coal and nuclear power plants in operation is going nowhere fast. The plan is to make ratepayers pay extra money for keeping uneconomical power plants running, even if cheaper alternatives are available. However, last week Energy Secretary Rick Perry let word slip that his agency was in no hurry to make that happen.

I know right? What a dumb plan!

A New Plan For Killing Coal Power Plants

As more evidence that DOE is charting a coal-killing course, check out how fast the agency is moving on an initiative for accelerating offshore wind development in the US.

Last November DOE launched plans for a new offshore wind R&D consortium, by December it announced a funding opportunity to kick it in motion, and just last week it awarded the $18.5 million pot to NYSERDA, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

NYSERDA will administer the new research consortium, which includes academic and private sector stakeholders.

So, why New York? Okay so it’s a huge state but they don’t have much of a coastline until you get to Long Island, which is all the way down at the bottom.

For a hint, recall that the nation’s very first offshore wind farm is located off the coast of teeny-weeny Rhode Island, the tiniest state in the nation. So, why Rhode Island? Deepwater Wind, the company that developed the project, has cited “fewest conflicts” as a key consideration.

It’s safe to assume that some of those conflicts involve politics, considering the huge obstacles faced by wind developers among Atlantic coast states. Most of the opposition has been centered in Republican-controlled states to the south, though until very recently the northern states of New Jersey and Massachusetts were also in that wind-free zone.

Now it looks like the Energy Department is taking a page out of the Deepwater Wind playbook. It stands to reason that the winning applicant would demonstrate a strong commitment to offshore wind. Sure enough, earlier this year New York State leaked word of a master plan to develop a $6 billion wind industry, so there’s that.

Along with the $18.5 million for NYSERDA, the Energy Department is also chipping in another $2 million for its sprawling national laboratory network to support the consortium’s work.

Here’s the money quote from DOE:

The overall goal of the consortium created by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is aimed at reducing the cost of offshore wind in the U.S.

NYSERDA President and CEO Alicia Barton was more specific:

…Together with our industry and state partners, this consortium will advance research to lower the costs of offshore wind energy and create a center of U.S. innovation and product development that will help make offshore wind the self-sustaining clean energy industry that we need to fight climate change.”


Coal Power Plants? We Don’t Need No Stinking…*

The new consortium continues Obama-era initiatives to ramp up the US offshore wind industry. These initiative have focused on three areas specific to US offshore conditions, and the NYSERDA work will also prioritize them:

This research will focus on conditions such as 1) deep water, where floating foundations are required, 2) areas where the seabed conditions are not well understood, 3) the impact of hurricanes on the East Coast, and 4) challenging environments for installation and operations at sea. All of these challenges will benefit from industry-wide collaboration to reduce costs and maximize U.S. economic benefits.

As further evidence that coal (and nuclear) power plants are in trouble, in April the Energy Department released the results of a new study on the value of offshore wind.

And, it’s not just the Energy Department. For all his fossil-friendliness (among other quirks), Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has gone out of his way to heap praise upon US offshore wind resources, and his agency has continued an Obama-era plan for leasing offshore wind areas for development.

Coal And Nuclear Good, Free Markets Bad

Circling back around to that new plan to save coal and nuclear, all five FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) members threw cold water on the idea during a Senate hearing last week.

The US Embassy in Argentina also hinted that Perry’s trip to the G20 meeting of energy ministers in Argentina last weekend would not go well for coal, though nuclear still might have a shot (emphasis added):

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is visitng Argentina from June 14 to 16 leading the United States delegation to the G20 Meeting of Energy Ministers in Bariloche. The G20 leaders in energy policy will discuss public policies to help promote transitions towards more flexible, more transparent and cleaner energy systems

Reuters caught this update from Secretary Perry during the G20 meeting on Friday:

A plan requested by U.S. President Donald Trump to prevent struggling nuclear and coal power plants from shutting is still being “fleshed out” by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the White House, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Friday.

That doesn’t sound very enthusiastic, does it?

On the other hand, buried far below the lede in the Reuters piece was this interesting thought from Perry:

“You would not want to wager that your liberties and your freedoms in a country – the United States in this case – should be left solely to the free market,” Perry said.

Ummm…did Perry really just say what we think he said? Coal and nuclear good, free markets bad?

Free markets bad?!?

If you have any thoughts, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Meanwhile, we’ll be touching base with NYSERDA to get some more details on the R&D plans, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

*This Day In Quotes seems to have the definitive answer on the “stinking” reference.

Photo (screenshot): Deepwater Wind via NYSERDA master plan.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3144 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey