In its rush to burnish its green bona fides, the Biden administration is showering billions of dollars of subsidies onto European offshore wind developers, and in the process threatening both the environment and the livelihoods of Atlantic coast commercial fishermen.
The most recent example is the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) decision to fast-track offshore leases to wind energy companies in the New York Bight — a 16,000 square mile triangular area off the coast between Long Island and New Jersey, where Govs. Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy want to construct at least 18,000 MW of wind. All told, the Biden administration wants to construct 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030, which would require erecting one 850-foot-tall wind turbine virtually every single day for the next decade.
The Atlantic coast contains some of the most productive fisheries in the world. BOEM is supposed to work with fisheries interests to ensure offshore wind development does not adversely affect habitat and the livelihood of fishermen. In fact, in December of last year, the Department of the Interior issued a detailed memo stating that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act prohibits offshore wind approvals if a project would interfere with fishing. But just a few weeks ago, the administration reversed those findings.
For example, Vineyard Wind, an 800 MW project to be built off Martha’s Vineyard, previously withdrew its application after a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) found the project would have adverse impacts on fisheries habitat and endangered species. But then Vineyard Wind “withdrew” its withdrawal. And — surprise! — last month BOEM issued a final EIS, which found that the project’s impacts would be “minimal.”
BOEM also is supposed to consider the cumulative impacts of building thousands of offshore wind turbines on marine habitats and biodiversity, not just the impacts of a single project. Although the Draft EIS admitted there is little research on those cumulative impacts, it is nevertheless full steam ahead for Vineyard Wind and the projects that the Cuomo and Murphy administrations intend to build in the Bight.
Those cumulative impacts may be irreversible. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researchers don’t know how decades of construction will affect the migration of fish and endangered right whales, whose population is estimated to be fewer than 400. Nor do they know the cumulative impacts on migratory seabirds and other wildlife.
According to NOAA, the commercial value of the New England and Middle Atlantic fisheries was almost $2 billion in 2018 and provided over 700 million pounds of fish and shellfish. That’s a lot of food. The industry also supports thousands of jobs. But like green energy mandates for corn-based ethanol that have raised food prices, the loss of seafood and jobs pales in comparison to the importance of appeasing Big Wind.
Big Wind — money-making corporations, not philanthropists — stands to earn big bucks. For example, LIPA customers will pay $160 per megawatt-hour for electricity generated by the Southfork Wind Project, which will be located about 35 miles east of Montauk and is supposed to begin generating electricity in late 2023. But by the end of the 20-year contract LIPA signed with Orsted, the Danish company building the project, LIPA customers will be paying more than $233 per MWh. By comparison, the wholesale market price of electricity on Long Island averaged a bit more than $35 per MWh in 2019.
In fact, of the main renewable energy technologies, offshore wind is the most expensive, far more so than solar power. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates the cost of offshore wind projects will average $115 per MWh. By comparison, the EIA estimates that an emissions-free, always-on, advanced nuclear plant entering service in 2026 will cost less than $70 per MWh, and won’t require expensive battery storage.
Not only will it cost U.S. consumers billions of dollars more per year for electricity than if generated from more reliable nuclear and natural gas-fired generators, but the intermittent nature of offshore wind will require building vast quantities of battery storage, which is likely to cost hundreds of billions more.
In addition to forcing ratepayers to buy electricity at three times the average market price last year, Vineyard Wind’s builders, Avangrid (Spain) and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (Denmark), will also be showered with well over a billion US taxpayer dollars, based on estimated construction costs of over $5,000 per kilowatt, the Biden administration’s new 30% investment tax credit for offshore wind. All told, constructing 30,000 MW of offshore wind is likely to send $50 billion of U.S. taxpayer money to giant European corporations.
And for what? The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from building all of that offshore wind will be minuscule and will have no impact on world climate whatsoever.
Instead, it is poised to wreck an entire industry and the thousands of jobs that commercial fisheries support.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Daily News
Jonathan A. Lesser, PhD, is the president of Continental Economics, an economic consulting firm, and an adjunct fellow with the Manhattan Institute.
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