3 states ink deal on offshore wind despite Trump ban

Source: By David Iaconangelo, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, November 1, 2020

The governors of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina launched a new regional collaborative this week to promote offshore wind in their states, despite a ban by President Trump that could affect those efforts.

In a memorandum of understanding published yesterday, the three states’ governors said they would appoint senior officials to meet on a quarterly basis and discuss ways to develop a Mid-Atlantic hub for offshore wind. Virginia and North Carolina’s governors, Ralph Northam and Roy Cooper, respectively, are Democrats, while Maryland’s Larry Hogan is a Republican.

Officials would aim to increase regulatory certainty, lower project costs, encourage manufacturers to locate in their states, and “promote synergy” between the states and developers, according to the MOU.

But the partnership’s purpose is at odds with an executive order from Trump that would stifle a decade’s worth of new offshore wind projects in the Southeast and potentially the Mid-Atlantic.

Trump’s order, issued in September, barred Interior officials from granting new leases for energy projects off the coast of four states, including North Carolina, for a 10-year period beginning in July 2022. After signing the order, the president also said that Virginia’s waters would be subject to the ban as well (Energywire, Sept. 29).

A press release announcing the multistate collaborative did not mention Trump’s ban, and the governors’ offices of North Carolina and Maryland did not respond to E&E News’ questions about it.

Jennifer Palestrant, chief deputy at Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, said Northam didn’t view the ban as being set in stone.

“We’re taking a wait-and-see approach,” she said, noting that Virginia hadn’t been included as part of the ban “in writing.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, if he is elected, could exclude offshore wind from the ban itself, which came largely in response to state opposition to coastal oil and gas exploration.

“The most important thing to keep in mind is the moratorium doesn’t affect projects that are already leased,” like Avangrid Inc.’s Kitty Hawk development in North Carolina, two projects in Maryland and Dominion Energy Inc.’s 220-turbine plans in Virginia, Palestrant said. “They’re protected. Nothing’s going to happen to those projects.”

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not respond to questions on whether Virginia would be subject to the ban.

Even apart from the Trump executive order, the three states would face more local challenges to their industries. In Maryland, officials along the Eastern Shore have fought developers over the size and distance from shore of the proposed turbines. And North Carolina’s grid would likely need to undergo expensive upgrades along the coast in order to handle the large volumes of power from offshore turbines.

Palestrant said the collaborative would help officials work out some of those lingering issues. Presenting a multistate “united front,” she added, would also make it easier to attract European manufacturers of turbine parts and negotiate with the federal government.

The partnership could also support a future offshore wind industry in states located to the south of North Carolina, she said. “What we’re doing is creating a whole new industry. … We want to see it built all the way around the coast of the United States.”