Trump Administration Opens New Offshore Wind Leases

Interior secretary calls wind part of administration’s ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy, wants to gauge interest in shallow waters between NJ and Long Island

In a step to bolster the tapping of wind resources off the Eastern Seaboard, the Trump administration is planning to open more areas in the Northeast to build offshore wind farms.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appeared at a conference in Princeton on offshore wind Friday and announced plans to hold lease sales for two additional areas off Massachusetts and to gauge interest in new leases along the New York Bight, the shallow waters between Long Island and New Jersey.

Unlike past administration energy initiatives, such as the widespread opposition to new oil and gas drilling off the East Coast, the offshore wind development largely reflects aggressive state plans to chart a big new future for offshore wind in New Jersey’s coastal waters.

Zinke acknowledged hostility to offshore oil and gas drilling along both coasts, while defending it as part of the administration’s diverse energy portfolio, including renewable sources.

‘American dominance’

“The Trump administration supports an all-of-the-above energy policy and using every tool available to achieve American dominance,’’ Zinke said. Later, he told reporters state laws to block drilling off their coasts could hinder new oil and gas exploration there. One such bill is on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

In contrast, Murphy wants to develop 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity along the coast, enough to supply 1.5 million homes. Two developers have spent nearly $2 million buying leases from the federal government to build offshore wind farms. Those projects are still in the study phase.

So far, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees the process for the Department of the Interior, has awarded 13 commercial wind-energy leases off the Atlantic coast, including the two in New Jersey. Another lease off of Delaware is expected to be only 16 miles from of Cape May in the Delaware Bay.

There is tremendous interest in offshore wind, a technology that has flourished in Europe for decades. Zinke’s announcement concluded a three-day conference in Princeton attended by more than 800 people. There is only one offshore wind farm operating in the United States, a 30-megawatt project off of Rhode Island.

“Offshore wind offers an unmatched opportunity to build a new generation of clean-energy infrastructure that will bring tens of thousands of jobs, reliable and affordable power, cleaner air, and a critically needed climate solution to American,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

With costs declining and a favorable regulatory climate, the offshore wind sector is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, particularly in the Northeast, according to a study by Moody’s Investors Service.

“Expanding the market for offshore wind is good news for American workers and the coastal communities needed to manufacture, deploy, and operate these projects,’’ said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.

Offshore wind farms could create up to 75,000 clean energy jobs in New Jersey and other coastal states, according to a report issued last week from the Center for American Progress and the New Jersey Work Environment Council.

To date, the biggest impediment to offshore wind has been its cost when compared with conventional ways of producing electricity. Those concerns have led the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to block the only offshore wind project to come before it, a 24-megawatt proposal three miles off Atlantic City.

That project is expected to come before the agency once again later this year.