It seems like only yesterday that US President Donald J. Trump was fighting the good fight against offshore wind turbines in Scotland while sticking up for US fossil energy producers. He lost the wind fight, the turbines went up, and now Scotland will leverage its ballooning wind resources to become the hidden powerhouse of Europe through the newly announced Eastern Link undersea transmission project.
“Underwater Energy Super-Highway” For Scotland’s Wind Industry
With so much losing going on it’s hard to keep track, but the President did indeed lose the Electoral College and the popular vote in the US 2020 elections.
Meanwhile, the US coal industry is already in tatters despite Trump’s oft-repeated pledge to save coal jobs. Now Eastern Link will put the squeeze on US oil and gas producers who were hanging on the export market for salvation — as if they didn’t have enough to worry about from the Trump administration’s own clean tech initiatives.
I know, right? Confusing! Trump has blown a lot of hot air over saving US fossil energy jobs, but the US Department of Energy has been hot on the trail of renewable energy all throughout his tenure, including major new wind energy, hydrogen economy, and global power systems initiatives in the weeks and days leading right up on to Election Day, November 3, when the agency chaired an international forum on pumped hydropower energy storage.
Europe’s Hidden Powerhouse
So, what is Eastern Link? The news broke earlier this morning after the firm Scottish Power (for those of you keeping score at home, that’s under the Ibderola umbrella) let word slip that it is teaming up with the diversified energy corporations SSE and National Grid to build two 2-gigawatt undersea high voltage DC cables that will stretch from Peterhead and Torness in Scotland to Selby and Hawthorn Point in northeast England. The combined capacity of 4 gigawatts is expected to transform Scotland into the “hidden power house of Europe.”
“The electric super-highway will play a vital role in achieving net zero as all three power firms were confirmed today as major partners of the UN’s COP26 climate change event to be held in Glasgow in 2021,” ScottishPower enthused, adding that “The cables will significantly increase the UK’s capacity for clean, green renewable power, enabling enough electricity for around four million homes.”
According to ScottishPower, survey work is already under way and construction is expected to begin in 2024.
Meanwhile, SSE Chief Executive Alistair Phillips-Davies has stated that the project affirms SSE’s “commitment to build a network for net zero emissions,” and Nicola Shaw, who is the UK Executive Director at National Grid, enthused over the colllaborative aspect.
“It’s a great example of companies working together on impressive engineering feats that will help the country hit its net zero carbon target by 2050,” he enthused.
Scotland Wins The Offshore Wind Battle
Trump has become somewhat famous for casting aspersions upon offshore wind turbines, probably due to his losing battle (yes, that’s another loss) against the construction of a smallish, 11-turbine wind farm in Scotland’s Aberdeen Bay, which he claimed would spoil the view from his golf course.
Well, it looks like Scotland will get the last laugh again. Eastern Link will enable the country to construct many more wind turbines and generate more wind power than it can absorb domestically.
For that matter, Trump has been losing the wind war right here in the United States. As one of its first actions after taking office in January 2017, the Trump administration ordered up a new coal-friendly grid study that gave US oil and gas stakeholders the willies, but in the end it was a love letter from the Energy Department to wind power.
That’s not a surprise. Trump’s first Energy Secretary was wind power fan, political survivor and former longest-serving Texas governor in history Rick Perry, who consistently promoted his agency’s clean tech programs while toeing his boss’s fossil energy rhetoric, including projects aimed at replacing baseload fossil power plants.
Perry’s tenure ended last December, and former auto industry lobbyist Dan Brouillette took the helm, charging out of the box first thing in January 2020 with a major new energy storage initiative that is all but guaranteed to hasten the collapse of the US fossil energy sector.
US To Earth: Sorry, The Dog Ate My Alarm Clock
As for the COP26 angle, President-elect Joe Biden actually did win both the Electoral College and the popular vote, which by the way is an extremely rare achievement in US political history for a challenger who faces an incumbent President.
That would appear to give Biden a fairly strong mandate to re-engage the US in global climate action after he takes office in January 2020.
Well, better late than never. Somewhat ironically, Biden will have a running jump on the action partly thanks to the Trump administration. Aside from that aforementioned love letter to the US wind industry and its ongoing wind research programs, the Energy Department has been promoting US wind resources to overseas investors, and it launched a new nationwide wind energy R&D consortium.
The Energy Department is also not satisfied with plumbing the wind resources of the vast Atlantic coast, where a new crop of wind-friendly coastal governors has been eagerly greasing the wheels. Now the agency is zeroing in on the Gulf of Mexico, which is ringed by four “red” states that have a history of resisting clean power (for the record, the fifth Gulf state is Texas, where other factors have impeded offshore development).
The Gulf political map has already begun to shift. Last week Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced a new offshore wind power economic development plan, based on Energy Department modeling that anticipate 4,400 green jobs and $445 million in economic output from a single 600-megawatt offshore wind farm.
If you’re wondering why not plant some wind turbines along the Pacific coast, that’s a good question. The political will is there, but unlike the relatively shallow Atlantic and Gulf coastal waters, the Pacific coast is fraught with engineering challenges.
The Pacific coast solution involves floating wind turbines, a technology that the Energy Department has been pursuing through various public-private R&D partnerships since the Obama administration. The taxpayer assist has enabled at least one US firm, Principle Power, to grow and export its floating turbine technology overseas. Whenever the US domestic floating wind industry, is ready for its closeup, a global supply chain will help it take off quickly and grow rapidly.
Group hug, taxpayers! The US has a lot of catching up to do, but 78,764,715 (and counting) members of the voting public have put their confidence in a new President who is squarely on the side of climate action.
If that’s not enough to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to hop on the green bandwagon and put climate legislation up for a vote, perhaps some pressure from corporate leaders will do the trick. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that the US Energy Department and the state of Maine are already looking at Scotland’s wind industry for inspiration, perhaps with a twist of green hydrogen as well. There are many months between January 2021 and COP26, which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021, so hold on to your hats.
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Photo (cropped) ScottishPower Renewables’s East Anglia ONE windfarm in the North Sea off East Anglia, “one of the largest offshore windfarms under construction and once fully operational in 2020 will have an installed capacity of up to 714MW” courtesy of ScottishPower Renewables.