Offshore wind energy gets a rare bipartisan boost

Source: Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2018

While the United States lags behind Europe in developing offshore wind projects, the nation is taking steps to catch up.

The latest proof came yesterday when Republicans and Democrats alike pledged to back the nascent industry at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

“This morning’s hearing is a welcome change of pace for this traditionally fossil fuel-focused committee,” said California Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal, the panel’s ranking member.

The subcommittee heard testimony on three bills aimed at giving a boost to offshore wind projects in federally controlled waters.

One of the bills, H.R. 5291, would create a federal grant program to train and educate offshore wind workers who want to transition from other industries.

The bill, sponsored by Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Niki Tsongas and Bill Keating and House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), would give priority to community colleges and organizations that assist minority populations.

The second bill would require the federal government to come up with a schedule and plan for offshore leases, while the third bill would require that the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act apply to U.S. territories such as Guam. Both bills are still in draft form.

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said the industry faces “significant pushback in the form of NIMBY opposition,” citing efforts to halt the Cape Wind project off of the coast of Massachusetts as an example.

But he said the industry is growing because “it simply makes sense.” Luthi said, “Oceans are big, with lots of space, and the wind is a consistent, endless resource.”

With a large number of projects now in the pipeline, the industry “is finally taking root,” said Stephen Pike, CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center in Boston.

Pike told the panel a recent analysis showed that the deployment of 4,000 megawatts by 2030 would create 17,000 to 18,000 jobs during a five-year period beginning in 2024.

Democrats and Republicans took note of their efforts to work together. Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, the panel’s chairman, called it all part of “a timely bipartisan conversation.”

“Our committee and the administration are committed to pursuing an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which includes a robust offshore renewable component,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Florida called it “an amazing hearing,” adding: “We are now getting to wind, which is great.”

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said the two parties “argue about a lot of things” in the Natural Resources Committee, but that’s not always the case.

“When it comes to clean renewable energy, it’s nice to know that we’ve found something that we ought to be able to work on together,” he said.