The Biden administration this week outlined a series of initiatives to advance clean energy, including plans to stage the largest sale of offshore wind farm rights in U.S. history and accelerate construction of new power lines to transmit renewable electricity across the country.
The efforts, which span at least seven federal agencies, could help achieve President Joe Biden’s climate ambitions to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035 and cut greenhouse gas emissions at least in half in United States by the end of the decade. The initiatives are unveiled as key elements of Biden’s climate agenda stall in the Senate.
“We are at an inflection point for the national development of offshore wind energy,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said last Wednesday. “This represents a unique opportunity to build an entirely new industry that can tackle climate change and create robust, sustainable economies – economies with well-paying union jobs that support families and put food on our table.”
The power grid initiative includes billions of dollars in federal funding — some of which comes from the recently enacted bipartisan Infrastructure Act — to upgrade and replace transmission lines nationwide. Some $10 billion would be earmarked for states, tribes and utilities to improve grid resiliency and help prevent power outages in the event of extreme weather and wildfires, the White House said in a statement. information sheet.
Past efforts to build high-voltage power lines so that renewable energy could be transported from the rural Midwest to coastal towns have failed in the face of local opposition, landowner concerns and licensing requirements. The Biden administration is seeking to overcome these obstacles by strengthening coordination with residents and local officials and encouraging investment in the projects most needed, according to the fact sheet.
The effort is part of another new administrative plan to expedite and prioritize government reviews of renewable energy projects on public lands managed by the Agriculture and Interior Departments — under a bid to authorize 25 gigawatts of solar, wind and geothermal power in this territory by 2025. Five federal government agencies, including the Department of Defense, have agreed to coordinate environmental reviews and prioritize resources toward project reviews.
The offshore wind lease sale scheduled for next month would give renewable energy developers a chance to buy leases to install turbines in the shallow waters of the Atlantic between New Jersey and Long Island in New York. The six plots to be auctioned in the so-called New York Bight have the potential to generate up to seven gigawatts of electricity – enough to power 2 million homes – according to the Interior Department.
“With its potential to deliver large-scale, clean energy, responsible development of offshore wind remains our best strategy to rapidly decarbonize our economy and mitigate the effects of climate change,” Liz Burdock, President of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said in a statement.
For the first time, the Department of the Interior will prohibit companies from bidding on more than one of the leases in the sale – a move designed to encourage broad participation and help grow the nascent offshore wind industry in the United States . The restriction has been resisted by some large offshore wind developers who might otherwise have secured adjacent leases in hopes of sharing resources between neighboring projects.
Other new lease terms will encourage successful bidders to enter into agreements with unions and use turbine blades, towers and other equipment made in the United States.
“The benefits from the sale of the lease will go beyond New York and New Jersey and support jobs and businesses across the United States,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association which represents developers. offshore energy.
Interior officials have reduced the overall size of the auction – with leases now set at 488,201 acres (197,570 hectares) – in response to concerns that development could harm commercial fishing in an area home to some richest scallop beds in the world. “We’ve really sought to ensure that these rental areas lead to coexistence and in fact prosperity for other ocean users,” said Amanda Lefton, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Still, the changes appeared unlikely to address concerns from fishing interests who have challenged the agency’s previous rulings on offshore wind and warned the plans jeopardize their businesses.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said he is working to address concerns from the commercial fishing industry as well as Long Beach Island residents worried about the visibility of nearby turbines. “We believe the concerns are manageable; we believe there are solutions to the concerns of both communities.” Murphy told reporters on a conference call. “But we take them absolutely seriously.”
Fisheries interests have argued that more needs to be done.
“New York Bight is an extremely divisive area,” said Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance which represents fisheries interests. “Issuing new leases before putting processes in place to mitigate the obvious risks this scale of development poses to historic food production and ecological resilience will result in devastating impacts that would have been largely avoidable with careful planning.”