Bipartisan governors urge Obama to help wind, solar expansion

Source: Scott Streater, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A bipartisan coalition of governors yesterday urged President Obama to take steps to facilitate the expansion of onshore and offshore solar and wind development before he leaves office.

The Governors’ Wind and Solar Energy Coalition, which represents 20 states from Hawaii to Rhode Island, sent a three-page letter to Obama that requests his administration ease regulatory burdens, particularly as they apply to offshore wind energy development.

While the United States led the world in wind energy generation last year, it has not sufficiently tapped into the nation’s offshore wind potential, according to the letter signed by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), the coalition’s chairman, and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D), the vice chairwoman.

“Offshore wind is an abundant source of renewable energy located near some of our nation’s largest cities and areas of electricity demand, but the nation still has only one project under construction off the coast of Rhode Island that recently completed construction and will be placed in service later this year,” said the letter, referring to the Block Island Wind Farm, which is expected to provide 30 megawatts of power to Rhode Island later this year.

By contrast, the governors wrote, “Europe currently has 11 [gigawatts] of offshore wind installed.”

The governors wrote that the administration needs to develop a regulatory process for offshore wind development that sets firm permitting deadlines and “includes robust collaboration with the states.”

“The states’ offshore wind industry will not grow without a policy foundation that enables deep water wind development and signals that the nation is serious about off-shore development,” they wrote.

The letter also addresses the permitting process for onshore wind and solar development.

“It is very difficult to permit wind and solar projects on public lands, as evidenced by the fact that more than 98 percent of the currently installed wind energy capacity is on private lands,” the governors wrote.

One concern is the impacts wind and solar projects have on birds. The governors wrote that they want the Obama administration to “ensure that the [Fish and Wildlife Service] does not broaden legal liability for the private sector under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), including wind and solar facilities, without having a workable general permit process to provide protection from the liability.”

Fish and Wildlife is developing a rule that would grant wind farms, power lines and other large energy projects license to injure, disturb or kill a limited number of eagles in exchange for commitments to avoid and mitigate harm (Greenwire, May 4).

Since 2009, FWS has allowed companies to obtain five-year eagle “take” permits. Take, which includes disturbance, injury or death, is generally prohibited under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.

“We urge the Administration to continue working with the wind and solar industries, conservation groups, states and other stakeholders to ensure the final rule is workable while continuing to protect eagles,” they wrote.

Another concern is the rule the Interior Department is expected to finalize in the next few weeks establishing a competitive leasing process for renewable energy projects on federal lands, a move the agency says will ensure future administrations continue advancing green energy projects.

The solar industry, in particular, has expressed concern about how the rule will work.

“While we understand the motivation to move in this direction, we urge your Administration to address the many concerns raised by the private sector that could limit wind and solar development on public lands,” the governors wrote.

Still, the governors note much progress has been made by the Obama administration and Congress.

Interior last week approved the 60th utility-scale renewable energy project on federal lands since 2009. If all 60 projects are built, they would have the capacity to produce 15,500 MW of electricity — enough to power about 5.1 million homes.

Congress in last year’s omnibus spending package extended the production and investment tax credits for wind until 2019.

And Congress is also working to ensure procedures are in place for offshore wind energy development, with Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) last week filing a bill that would extend the investment tax credits for offshore wind until 2026 (E&E Daily, Sept. 16).

“The Coalition’s collaboration with your Administration can bring even more value to our states if you consider the following actions to develop our states’ and the nation’s wind and solar resources,” the governors wrote.