Dead humpback whales latest setback for Biden’s offshore plan… – The Washington Post | NutSocia


The school bus-sized humpback whale that washed ashore on a narrow beach in Brigantine, NJ this month, weighed 12 tons and took a heavy emotional toll on coastal towns helplessly witnessing a spate of such deaths.

The humpback whale was one of nine large whales stranded on or near beaches in the Northeast for over six weeks, not far from where developers of hundreds of offshore wind turbines are busy with a spate of stemming activity. The deaths have sparked opposition to the projects, although government scientists say they were unrelated.

It’s the latest in a series of threats to a fledgling offshore wind industry that climate advocates say are central to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Rising costs due to inflation and labor shortages are leading developers to say their projects may not be profitable. A slew of lawsuits and pending federal restrictions aimed at protecting sensitive wildlife could further increase costs. The uncertainty has clouded good expectations for massive growth in US offshore wind power, which the Biden administration and several state governments have emphasized in their climate plans.

“We’re trying to build an entire industry in the United States, and we’re having natural growing pains,” said Cindy Muller, an attorney who heads the Houston office and co-chair of the law firm’s offshore wind initiative Jones is a walker.

Heads of state and the Biden administration have pledged themselves to the industry because the power of offshore wind energy can generate 24/7 a rare source of greenhouse gas-free electricity — and one that will be difficult for future governments to reverse once turbines are in the ground. The government has set a goal of generating 30 gigawatts of new energy from offshore wind power by 2030. That’s about 3 percent of what the country needs to reach 80 percent clean electricity by then, according to estimates by a team led by University of California at Berkeley researchers.

The industry paid more than $5 billion to the federal government for the right to build offshore as the Biden administration provided a large number of leases last year. Some of the world’s biggest energy companies, including BP, Shell, Equinor and Duke Energy, are now planning to spend billions more to build thousands of skyscraper-sized turbines off America’s shores that will produce enough juice to power about 7 million homes, according to the American Clean Power Association, a renewable energy trade group.

The country’s first major project began construction off the coast of Massachusetts just over a year ago, and now survey vessels are charting the east coast for the next wave of construction. This work takes place in the same area where the extinction of humpback whales began seven years ago and where scientists and federal officials are now working to prevent the extinction of the North Atlantic right whale, one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals.

“We have an unprecedented number of whales here simultaneously finding industrial activity in these waters on a scale that has never been seen before,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a local nonprofit. “Why isn’t this being investigated? Why do these companies get a pass?”

Achieving the Biden administration’s goal would require installing thousands of the machines, which tower as tall as three Statues of Liberty stacked on top of each other when their blades reach the sky. The blades alone can be the length of a football field.

But progress was slow. There are currently only seven working offshore wind turbines in the entire United States. In Europe there are more than 5,000. China also has thousands.

“This industry has had a long, frustrating, sometimes slow start,” said Klaus Skoust Moeller, the CEO of Vineyard Wind, which is finally laying cable for a massive wind project 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard that is years behind schedule due to regulatory delays and litigation by opponents. “That doesn’t make sense. We have cities that are willing to invest. It’s within reach.”

This marks a turning point for the American wind industry, with 17 projects in active development on the East Coast, almost all of which are facing significant headwinds. New Jersey utility Public Service Enterprise Group announced last week that it was selling its 25 percent interest in the Ocean Wind 1 project. And last fall, three other developers in New England and the mid-Atlantic region tried to renegotiate their contracts because rising costs mean they can no longer afford to deliver power at the prices promised.

Shareholders are urging companies not to invest in further projects beyond the wave already underway, said Paul Zimbardo, an analyst at Bank of America. The delays make it unlikely that the Biden administration will meet its 2030 target, lawyers and analysts said.

“As we grow this industry, there will be bumps along the way,” Elizabeth Klein, the newly installed director of the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told a gathering of US mayors in Washington on Thursday. “We will continue to work with communities along the coast and across the country to make this a reality.”

The corporations have influential allies in their corner beyond the White House. The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other major environmental groups are working to advance the projects.

“The greatest threat to the marine ecosystem is climate change,” said Shay O’Reilly, a senior organization representative for the Sierra Club in New York City, who supports a 130-turbine project that would span 80,000 acres of ocean south of Long Island.

Proponents of harnessing the sea wind are fighting on many fronts.

Fisheries industry groups fear regulators are overlooking potential damage to marine life and access to fisheries in a rush to get turbines running. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, an oil company-funded advocacy group dedicated to halting renewable energy expansion, provides the financial support and legal expertise for lawsuits filed by New England fishing companies over the Vineyard Wind project to stop. The foundation is taking up the whale case in court.

Amid concerns that whale deaths are being linked to wind energy development, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has invited reporters to a news conference to highlight evidence that says otherwise.

An autopsy of the humpback whale that washed ashore in Brigantine this month revealed bruising from blunt force trauma consistent with being struck by a boat, said Sheila Dean, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a nonprofit in New Jersey who directed the response to the stranding. However, she warned that it could take a while to examine samples from stranded whales and determine the cause of death.

Michael Moore, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said whales face “a number of risks” when building turbines, such as: B. increased ship traffic and potential changes in ecology. But this ecological shift, he said, “requires further study to truly understand its significance.”

Right whales have been the top concern and the Biden administration is working on guidance, expected this year, to protect their migration routes.

Meanwhile, wind developers, environmentalists and fishing companies are at odds over new federal speed limits on construction vessels aimed at deterring whale attacks, also expected this year. The offshore wind industry warns against excessively rigid limit values. They say it would force developers to place ships, which effectively float hotels, at project sites at sea, an extreme expense but the best potential alternative to prohibitive transit times to get workers to and from shore.

Lobbyists and analysts said offshore wind projects are likely to survive even if the companies lose some of those battles. Timothy Fox, vice president of research at ClearView Energy Partners, called it “a tall but surmountable hurdle.”

States are heavily invested, a crucial source of support. Several East Coast states, California and Louisiana have pledged to secure 74 gigawatts of offshore wind power — enough to power tens of millions of homes, according to a tally by the American Clean Power Association.

At the US Mayors’ Conference convening in Washington last week, discussion of the immense investment potential for cities overshadowed concerns about all the setbacks the projects are facing. Group Energy Committee Chairman Jon Mitchell of New Bedford, Mass., where Vineyard Wind is based, was amazed at the amount of investment that went into the company’s only project.

“It’s the equivalent of three NFL stadiums,” he said. “It’s a big, big industry. There’s a lot going on right now. It will be relevant for many cities.”

Leave a Comment