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Offshore moratorium includes wind energy

On Sept. 8, President Trump signed an order prohibiting offshore leasing for energy exploration, development or production off the coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Trump said Sept. 25 during an event he would add North Carolina and Virginia to the moratorium.

Though not explicitly stated in the executive orders, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has confirmed that wind energy is included in the withdrawal.

“The withdrawal includes all energy leasing, including conventional and renewable energy, beginning on July 1, 2022. No new leases will be issued offshore North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, for a 10-year period beginning July 1, 2022,” Stephen Boutwell, BOEM spokesperson, told Coastal Review Online Wednesday.

Trump signed the memorandum Sept. 25 that states, “I hereby withdraw from disposition by leasing for 10 years, beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2032: The portion of the area designated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as the Mid Atlantic Planning Area that lies south of the northern administrative boundary of North Carolina,” as that administrative boundary depicted on the Atlantic NAD 83 Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Administrative Boundaries map. The memorandum does not appear to include Virginia.

The memorandum also states, “This withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any leasing for purposes of exploration, development, or production during the 10-year period beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2032.”

The move to prohibit renewable energy is counter to a June 2017 proclamation from the White House. “Today, our offshore areas remain underutilized and often unexplored. We have yet to fully leverage new technologies and unleash the forces of economic innovation to more fully develop and explore our ocean economy. In the field of energy, we have just begun to tap the potential of our oceans’ oil and gas, wind, wave, and tidal resources to power the Nation,” according to the proclamation.

The president announced Sept. 8 in Jupiter, Florida, the order to extend an earlier moratorium on offshore drilling on Florida’s Gulf Coast and expand it to Florida’s Atlantic Coast, as well as the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina and Virginia were not included.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., announced Sept. 21 that he had spoken with Trump who agreed North Carolina would be included in the presidential memorandum withdrawing new leasing for offshore oil and gas developments. Trump did not immediately confirm Tillis’ announcement.

National Ocean Industries Association, or NOIA, President Erik Milito told Coastal Review Online Wednesday that the interest and optimism in Atlantic offshore wind projects cannot be understated, and this includes opportunities offshore of the Carolinas.

“BOEM previously identified three proposed wind areas, not to mention one active lease offshore North Carolina, and four call areas offshore South Carolina. Wood Mackenzie published a report last month on the impact of expected near-term offshore wind leases, and a lease block offshore the Carolinas was included. That lease sale was predicted to support 37,000 jobs annually and $44.9 billion in total capital investment. The market is ready, it is just a matter of access,” he said.

Andrew Hutson, Audubon North Carolina executive director and National Audubon Society vice president, said in a statement Tuesday that “Banning offshore wind despite growing demand makes no sense and will be devastating for North Carolina’s clean energy economy, businesses, and workers. It’s bad news for birds too. When properly sited, wind power not only coexists with birds – it makes wildlife populations and local communities more resilient by cutting down on harmful carbon pollution.”

Sharon Martin, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Quality, told Coastal Review Online Wednesday that North Carolina will continue to implement and remains committed to Executive Order 80 and transitioning the state to a clean energy economy, which includes achieving a 70% reduction in power sector GHG emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

“The NC Clean Energy Plan is a roadmap of actions to help NC achieve those goals. The state continues to implement the NC Clean Energy Plan, NC Zero-Emission Vehicle Plan, and other aspects of EO 80 and we will continue working to take advantage of the economic and environmental benefits of clean energy, while protecting coastal communities from the threat of offshore drilling,” she said.

According to the Sept. 25 memorandum, “nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas,” which would include Avangrid Renewables’ Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project that will be developed more than 27 miles from the Outer Banks.

Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind is a proposed offshore wind energy project to be built in the Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area, designated by BOEM. The commercial lease for the 122,405-acre area was awarded to Avangrid Renewables by BOEM in 2017. The company, which has been studying the area since, launched in July an advanced meteorological buoy, according to the clean energy company headquartered in Portland, Oregon.

Once complete, Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind is projected to have a generation capacity of up to 2,500 megawatts, or enough to power about 700,000 homes.

BOEM since 2009 has been responsible for offshore renewable energy development in federal waters. The program began when the Department of the Interior, or DOI, announced the final regulations for the Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Program authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. These regulations provide a framework for all of the activities needed to support production and transmission of energy from sources other than oil and natural gas, according to BOEM. These include offshore wind energy, ocean wave energy, ocean current energy and offshore solar.

This isn’t the first roadblock for offshore wind energy production.

In August 2019, the Department of the Interior formally decided to delay Vineyard Wind, the first large-scale offshore wind energy project in the U.S. planned for 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, to conduct a supplemental study.

The decision contrasts with bipartisan support for offshore wind from federal and state officials, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

“The Department of the Interior’s regrettable decision to further delay the review of the Vineyard Wind project undermines the Trump administration’s American energy dominance agenda and a major U.S. economic growth opportunity. Offshore wind development is expected to result in a $70 billion investment into the American energy supply chain,” said Tom Kiernan, AWEA CEO, in a statement at the time.

In February of this year, the Trump administration provided a revised Vineyard Wind Offshore Wind Facility permitting timeline. The permits will be issued by the EPA in March of 2021, pushing completion well past the intended 2022 date.

Trump has made false statements about wind turbines in the past, particularly about those on land, stating that if the wind stops blowing, your power will turn off. He has said that turbines kill birds including Bald Eagles and that production of the turbines in China and Germany creates “tremendous fumes.” He said few are made in the United States.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wind energy is fed into the U.S. power grid via transmission lines that connect a variety of energy sources. “Grid operators use the interconnected power system to access other forms of generation when contingencies occur and continually turn generators on and off when needed to meet the overall grid demand.”

The EPA also states that birds and bats are only occasionally killed in collisions with wind turbines and that bird kills are limited to less than 0.02% of the total populations of songbird species, “and orders of magnitude less than other causes.”

Also, most components of wind turbines installed in the United States are manufactured in the county, according to the EPA.

The Department of Energy did not respond to Coastal Review Online’s request for comment for this report.

The American Wind Energy Association declined to comment.