Wind energy supporters take heart in Interior lease auction
Local wind-energy proponents breathed a measured sigh of relief this week after the Department of the Interior Thursday completed an offshore wind-power auction, and a Trump administration official offered support for wind as part of the country’s overall energy “toolbox.”
But the boost for wind power came on the same day as President Donald Trump’s first budget proposed doing away with green-energy programs such as EnergyStar, which rates products for their efficiency, and a long list of renewable-energy research and development initiatives. Among them, Trump proposed eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and other renewables programs in favor of those that boost fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
The budget also proposed eliminating a program to weatherize homes to save on heating bills, cutting funding to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which funds programs at Brookhaven Labs, and doing away with the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans pay their heating bills.
The R&D cuts, the budget said, reflect a decision to instead rely on the private sector rather than government to fund “later-stage research, development, and commercialization of energy technologies,” rather than the government.
But the bright spot in the Trump budget for local supporters of renewable energy was at the Department of the Interior, where the administration is requesting an increase in funding.
The budget “strengthens the nation’s energy security by increasing funding for Department of the Interior programs that support environmentally responsible development of energy on public lands and offshore waters.”
While the budget didn’t spell out offshore wind specifically, and while Trump has been a vocal supporter of offshore fossil fuel exploration, the budget was released on the same day the administration announced the successful auction of the North Carolina wind-area lease. Some 122,000 acres of ocean were leased to Avangrid Renewables for $9 million.
“The success of this lease sale reflects the continued interest of coastal communities to develop their offshore energy resources,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “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.”
Long Island is poised to become immersed in wind power. LIPA in January signed a 20-year contract with Deepwater Wind to build a 15-turbine wind array off the coast of Rhode Island (it awaits state approvals, among other things), and Deepwater is proposing a separate plan for LIPA that would add another 35 turbines in the same waters.
Deepwater Wind chief executive Jeff Grabowski said, “Federal officials recognize that offshore wind is an important new resource for powering our coastal communities, and we are confident that federal agencies will support our efforts to develop the South Fork Wind Farm.”
In December the federal government auctioned off lease rights to 79,350 acres of water 11.5 miles off Jones Beach for a separate wind array. Statoil, the Norwegian company that won the bid, announced Friday that it will formally execute the lease, and its President Knut Aanstad said, “We are now ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
German wind-energy developer PNE Wind has filed a separate plan to lease 40,000 acres of water south of Fire Island starting at Bayport to develop a 50-turbine wind array. No lease has been awarded.
Local proponents of wind say the signals from the Interior Department, which follow years of opposition to offshore wind power expressed by Trump, bode well for the projects.
“We’re very encouraged and it’s great to see North Carolina is moving forward,” said LIPA trustee Tom McAteer.