Obama Administration Moves Virginia Offshore Wind Energy Forward

Guest Blog | July 23, 2013 | Energy Policy, Wind

Originally posted on the National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promise blog by Amber Hewett on July 22, 2012. Reposted with permission from NWF with our gratitude. 

An announcement this morning gives an important boost to offshore wind energy development, and demonstrates exactly the kind of leadership we hoped would follow President Obama’s climate speech last month. The president called for the expansion of renewable energy projects on public lands and waters, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell wasted no time in following through on her piece of the Administration’s climate  strategy.  Just over a week away from the first-ever renewable energy lease sale on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, Secretary Jewell and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have scheduled another – this time, in Virginia.

Virginia's Offshore Wind Energy Area

On September 4, the Bureau will hold a competitive auction for a designated 112,800 acre wind energy area off the coast of Virginia.  Secretary Jewell and Bureau Director Tommy Beaudreau clearly recognize the great potential off our Atlantic shores and intend to lead us toward harnessing this clean and unlimited source of energy. NWF welcomes this news, and will continue to work with both state and federal agencies to ensure that our treasured coastal and marine wildlife are protected as this process moves forward to bring much needed clean energy online for Virginia.

“The competitive lease sale offshore Virginia will mark an important transition from planning to action when it comes to capturing the enormous clean energy potential offered by Atlantic wind,” said Jewell. “Responsible commercial wind energy development has the potential to create jobs, increase our energy security, and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness.”

This is great news for our national energy future, and this is especially great news for Virginia. NWF, our state affiliate Virginia Conservation Network, Southern Environmental Law Center and many other local voices have expressed support for moving offshore wind energy forward in Virginia.  The area to be auctioned in September has the capacity to meet the electricity demands of about 700,000 homes.  Production, installation, operation, and maintenance will all require job creation.  And Virginia will get to be among the first states to translate the words of Obama’s Climate Plan into action, by generating 2,000 of the targeted 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.

“Today, Virginia gets over 90 percent of its electricity from just three sources – nuclear, coal, and natural gas. Virginia urgently needs to diversify its energy supply. Properly-sited and responsibly-developed offshore wind energy can protect wildlife, cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution, and create thousands of jobs,” said Catherine Bowes, Senior Manager for Climate and Energy at the National Wildlife Federation’s Northeast Regional Center.  “Local, state and federal officials need to keep working make the golden opportunity of offshore wind a reality.”

The Stage is Set for Congress to Show their Commitment to Clean Energy

The eight companies slated to bid for Virginia’s wind energy area indicate that industry is ready to take on our critical energy challenges.  Offshore wind energy technologies are advanced and tested – but financing models and federal support for investors lag behind other sectors.  At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Hearing on Clean Energy Financing last week, several witnesses spoke of the importance of at least leveling the playing field.  Investors willing to support a national shift to clean energy sources deserve the same protections and incentives they would receive from investing their capital elsewhere.

OnRamp Capital partner Will Coleman, was very candid with the committee: “private capital has the capacity, but we have alternatives.”  He explained that financers are willing to take risks on new technology and individual talent, but there are far too many other opportunities to justify taking the funding risks surrounding clean energy projects.  Coleman’s suggestion to Congress: “reward investment in innovation and then get out of the way… Draw capital into the gap and force it to stand on its own two feet.”  Fortunately we know how to do this, because it’s happening in other sectors, it’s happening at the state level, and it’s happening abroad.

Now, Congress faces a window of opportunity.  The Obama Administration outlined a broad set of climate goals – federal agencies and state officials are already reaching for them.  Our leaders on Capitol Hill need to recognize that the U.S. is ready for offshore wind energy, that industry is poised to carry us closer to an energy future that prioritizes clean air and clean water for future generations while protecting wildlife and their habitats– and Congress can help clear the path.  Today, that means supporting the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act in both the Senate and the House, which offers an investment tax credit to those willing to fund offshore wind development off America’s shores.

The Interior Department and BOEM, Virginia state leadership, and the companies who will bid for the opportunity to tap this plentiful resource, they see the immensity of our global energy challenge – but in it, they see opportunity.  A shift to clean energy requires commitment, collaboration, and innovative solutions – and most of all, it requires all hands on deck.  Responsibly-sited offshore wind energy is an essential piece of an energy strategy that we can be truly proud of.  Today’s announcement marks important progress, let’s ensure that it attracts more of the same.

Send a message to BOEM, thanking them for this step in the right direction and urging them to keep up the momentum on offshore wind energy!

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