President Biden wants 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 to help reach his pledge to cut the nation’s fossil fuel emissions 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. To get there, the Biden administration plans to develop large-scale wind farms along almost the entire coastline of the United States. The Department of Interior will identify, demarcate and eventually lease federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine and off the coasts of the Mid-Atlantic States, North Carolina and South Carolina, California and Oregon, to wind power developers by 2025.
The only wind farm built in the United States is a 5 turbine farm off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. This summer, four of the company’s 5 offshore wind turbines were not working due to “maintenance” needed to repair stress cracks. And, the underground cable from Block Island to the mainland needs to be reburied, which was to be accomplished this past spring, but had to be postponed. The cost of the added maintenance and cable burial will partially be passed onto electricity consumers. Such are the problems which are discovered with nascent technologies.
Despite these problems with the only operating wind farm in the United States, the Biden administration approved a wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and began reviewing a dozen other potential offshore wind projects along the East Coast. On the West Coast, the Biden administration approved opening up two areas off the shores of Central and Northern California for wind power development.
After the offshore areas are identified, they will be subject to federal, state and local reviews to see if the potential sites could harm endangered species, conflict with military activity, damage underwater archaeological sites, or harm local industries such as tourism, fishing or oil and gas development. Commercial fishing groups and coastal landowners will try to stop the projects if they interfere with their industries or views, as has been the case for the Martha’s Vineyard project and one off the coast of Long Island. In the Gulf of Mexico, oil and gas exploration companies will most likely evaluate whether the development of wind energy is a threat to their operation.
All offshore areas will also have to consider the impact they might have on maritime navigations since essential ports are present in most of the areas. Maritime issues have already become an issue off the coast of California where a ship waiting to unload is alleged to have dragged an anchor across an oil pipeline, causing a spill. With so much infrastructure required for offshore wind generation, similar conflicts may arise.
Subsidies for Renewable Energy
Congress passed the first temporary production tax credit (PTC) for wind in 1992 and extended it 13 times since then. The Democrat’s reconciliation package contains about $235 billion in incentives for wind and solar as well as emerging technologies like hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels. The $235 billion in incentives is 2.6 times the $90 billion in the economic stimulus package passed in 2009 for renewable energy, when the Obama administration was in office.
The reconciliation package (Build Back Better) would make the PTC and investment tax credit (ITC) direct payments, instead of a tax credit against any taxes owed. That is, renewable energy developers would receive a check from the government for the subsidy. Further, solar, which has long qualified for an investment tax credit but not the production tax credit available to wind, would now qualify for both. The legislation would also restore the PTC and ITC to their original values as follows: The PTC offers a base amount of 0.5 cent per kilowatt-hour through 2031, which could increase to 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour—the original value—if developers pay prevailing wage and employ a certain percentage of apprentices on their projects. The updated ITC envisions a similar system, with a 6 percent base payment and 30 percent bonus with the prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements. Energy storage such as batteries and microgrid controllers, among other technologies, would also qualify for the ITC.
The combined cost of the PTC and ITC in the reconciliation package $107 billion between 2022 and 2031, which is 5.35 times the $20 billion that the United States spent on the PTC between 2005 and 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Cost of Offshore Wind Farms
Data from the U.K. for actual wind farms offshore show high costs. The Hornsea 1 and East Anglia 1 operating wind farms have cost £4.1 million ($5.6 million) per megawatt of capacity and £3.6 million ($4.9 million) per megawatt of capacity, respectively. Moray East, which installed its final turbine recently is expected to cost £4 million per megawatt—similar to Hornsea 1. Moves to deeper waters have brought slightly better load factors for offshore windfarms, but the extra costs involved in going deeper appear to have largely wiped out the load factor gains. Costs for offshore wind in the U.K. have been approximately level from 2013 to 2019. East Anglia 1, coming in on budget in 2020 and delivering expected performance, has produced a drop in costs for that year, but costs for the next three U.K. windfarms to come on line (Triton Knoll, Moray East, and Hornsea 2) look as though they will return to the normal higher cost levels.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects the first of a kind offshore wind turbine to cost $5,453 per kilowatt, falling eventually to $4,362 per kilowatt. It appears that Hornsea 1 cost a little more, but EIA’s drop off seems too large compared to U.K. experience. EIA’s cost for offshore wind is almost 3 times higher than the cost of onshore wind. Relying on offshore wind is relying on an intermittent technology that is very expensive.
Europe’s Energy Crisis
One reason, among several, for Europe’s energy crisis is a 20 percent reduction in output from the wind power sector. Renewables such as wind and solar are intermittent, subject to the prevailing wind and solar conditions that can fluctuate greatly throughout the day. They are the least reliable source when it comes to meeting electricity demand. When relying on wind power, unexpected shortages can occur and then European electricity system operators are forced to replace the missing wind power with electricity that can be quickly accessed by ramping up natural gas, oil or coal-fired power plants but at a cost, typically higher than the average power cost. A move to wind and solar energy to replace existing fossil fuel-fired electricity generation will increase power costs for consumers. And it is likely that the more intermittent sources of energy that make up a system, the larger the potential supply disruptions and the required costly backup systems. All of these contribute to consumer costs rising.
President Biden wants 30 gigawatts of expensive and intermittent offshore wind power by 2030 to reach his commitment for the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The Department of Interior has approved the Martha Vineyard offshore wind farm and is assessing more areas along most of the U.S. coastline for future wind lease sales. U.K. data show that offshore wind is very expensive—more expensive than most onshore technologies including onshore wind, solar, natural gas and coal. Wind output has been reduced by 20 percent in Europe as the technology is dependent on prevailing winds, which has contributed to Europe’s energy crisis and huge accompanying hikes in prices for consumers. It is a benefit to the United States that the Europeans took on the transition to renewables first so that Americans could learn from it. However, it is unclear whether the Biden administration is listening.