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How American Authorities Prevent U.S. Offshore Wind Industry's Lift Off

Even four years after the commissioning of Block Island, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., American authorities are still struggling with offshore wind. Now the next project has taken a heavy blow. The industry isn't getting off the ground.

A look into the far future in the U.S.? (Image: Pixabay)A look into the far future in the U.S.? (Image: Pixabay)

Offshore wind and the Americans - it's not love. This is a summary of the situation the developers of power plants at sea in the United States are facing. Even four years after Block Island was commissioned, the 30 MW wind farm remains the only realized project so far.

Actually, the industry wanted to be much further down the road by now. Above all, the authorities keep putting new obstacles in the way of developers. While flourishing offshore wind farms have been running in Europe for years and the industry is currently picking up speed in Asia as well, it seems that the Americans are afraid of so much innovation.

Environmental concerns are the main focus of attention - in the land of SUV's and fast food chains. But questions like "What influence do wind farms have on local flora and fauna? Are sensitive marine mammals affected by them or are shoals of fish being driven away?", which have long been answered in Europe, are now being completely re-examined in the U.S. and causing authorities headaches.

This has already delayed the 800 MW Vineyard Wind project. Final environmental assessments, which were actually planned for last year and have already been postponed once, are currently taking even more time. The Department of the Interior has therefore set itself the target of reaching a final decision by the end of 2020. That companies have long been ready to start with signed contracts waiting for implementation doesn't seem to matter.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) criticized: “Moving forward, it’s critical Interior meet or accelerate the announced schedule, expedite the review for other offshore wind projects under development, and move forward with auctions for new wind energy lease areas, which will create thousands of new jobs and economic opportunities nationwide," said Laura Morton.

Flora and fauna in the oceans have so far prevented the construction of offshore wind farms in the U.S. (Image: Pixabay)

What remains is a company with a lapsed schedule: "While we need to analyze what a longer permitting timeline will mean for beginning construction, commercial operation in 2022 is no longer expected," explained Lars Pedersen, CEO of project developer Vineyard Wind. At the same time, there is a lot of political support in the U.S. for a potentially multi-billion-dollar industry - and that across party lines.

Nevertheless, the authorities are going their own way. Now a new decision is causing headaches and perhaps the end of another planned project. The Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation, LEEDCo for short, has been trying for some time to obtain permission to build six offshore turbines in Lake Erie. Offshore inland, so to speak. However, the Ohio Power Siting Board decided last week that the Icebreaker project can only be built if the turbines are shut down every night for eight months of the year.

“This order is not an approval,” said Dave Karpinski, president of LEEDCo, and the authority's decision "may well be fatal to the entire project.” There was already an agreement that LEEDCo had reached with environmental groups to monitor and protect bats and birds. The proposed site north of Lakewood is not within a major flight path for birds. An ornithologist who conducted a study to draft an environmental impact report described it as "the least risky project" he had ever worked on.

With the new arrangement, the project has now become economically unviable. LEEDCo has announced to meet in the coming days to review options. It will then be decided whether and how the project will continue.

Katrin Radtke
US, wind farm, offshore, developer, authorities, Block Island, Vineyard Wind, LEEDCo, turbine, nature, environment, regulation

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