During the Obama administration, the Interior Dept.’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) sold leases of about 200 square miles in the areas shown in the accompanying map situated in federal waters generally 10-25 miles off the coast. The leases are located off the coast of every state from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
The holders of the leases, such as the Danish public firm, Ørsted, are large developers of offshore wind projects in Europe and around the world.
Before proceeding with construction, the developers must complete an extensive, detailed Construction & Operations Plan (COP), and BOEM develops an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) that is used as a Record of Decision in determining whether to approve the plan.
The developers also must negotiate with each state’s public utility commission that will purchase the power over 25 years, obtain local and state permits.
Importantly, the developer must also find a suitable location onshore to attach the power cable from the wind farm to the regional power grid.
These projects are immense and take time to put the approvals together. By 2018, Several developers had completed their COPs and submitted them to BOEM for review and approval. One very small Ørsted project, five turbines off the northeast coast (not the beach) of Block Island, RI, was the only completed wind project on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
The Trump administration was very deliberate in their review process and was hearing sentiments of public concern of many elements of the impact of the turbines on ocean life, now that the public was getting into the public comment phase. This included adding a cumulative impact analysis where likely to be developed nearby lease areas might multiply negative impacts.
President Biden campaigned on installing 30 gigawatts of ocean wind and made several public statements about cutting through the red tape and getting these ocean wind projects approved promptly, thus putting pressure on his new appointees to the Interior Dept and its BOEM.
After the November 2020 election of Joe Biden, developers of the Vineyard Wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket withdrew their COP to avoid potentially being denied by the Trump administration after a three-year review with a final decision due in January 2021 and refiled them immediately after Biden was sworn in. BOEM accepted the re-filed Vineyard Wind COP on March 3, 2021, with a new alternative the developer anticipated would require up to a twelve-month EIS review. Instead, BOEM published the final EIS nine days later, on March 12th, with an announced 30 day public comment period.
On May 11, 2021, BOEM announced the approval of the "Vineyard Wind" project, the first-ever approval of an industrial-sized offshore wind project in the US. Public comments made during the 30 day comment period were ignored. The approval serves as the template for subsequent approval of all of the other wind projects south to North Carolina, namely the first domino to fall.
The Feds pulled the Trigger, and we responded
The 100 page Record of Decision for the Vineyard Wind project spells out all of the aspects of the project review that BOEM looked at and detailed the rationale for their conclusions, including judgments that the project was in compliance with existing federal laws and regulations.
Our attorney’s close review of the Record of Decision revealed several obvious non-compliance with federal laws, including the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Record also contained illogical conclusions on several very key policy determinants for approval, including the visual impact of these very large turbines, the economic impact on tourism, the economic impact on commercial fisheries, and conflicts with Coast Guard, military operations, and civil aviation.
The record practically ignored the direct impact on the North Atlantic Right Whale population directly in the lease area, on the “most critical” status of the endangered species list.
On May 21, 2021, a “60 day Notice to Sue” was filed against National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration Marine Fisheries Service and BOEM over Endangered Species Act violations. The Notice enumerates the ESA violations and is a public record.
Further lawsuits are anticipated against the Interior Department’s BOEM unit calling out serious violations of the NEPA and the APA and challenge the decisions made by BOEM on the merits.
We will keep you informed as to the progress of these suits.
An Objective Assessment of Offshore Wind Turbines
Imagine a social and political environment with no pre-conceived notions about wind turbines being built in the ocean instead of on land. In deciding whether or not to contract to construct $100 billion in thousands of wind turbines off the American East coast, you would consider the following facts:
1. Like their cousins, the off-shore oil drilling rigs, off-shore wind turbines have capital and operational costs 4 to 5 times compared to land-based drilling rigs or wind turbines;
2. This results in electricity costs 4 to 5 times more than electricity from equivalent land-based turbines. The total costs of them add up to 35 years of electricity supply contracts between the wind turbine developers and the state by state public utilities purchasers may approach half a trillion dollars in electric premiums paid compared to equivalent renewable land-based power. That’s effectively a tax on all electricity consumers in these states and falls most heavily on the low-income sector.
3. The strong rhythmic vibrations of turning blades are transmitted to the ocean floor and have been measured up to nearly four miles from the turbine base. These vibrations make communication impossible for ocean animals who communicate through sounds like whales.
4. Thanks to space-age technology, the latest tall turbines use carbon fiber for the blades, which allows the new blades to be 361 feet long compared to 200 feet on the older smaller turbines. The blades and nearly all of the turbines cannot be recycled but must go to landfills forever. Not a sustainable product.
5. We see no provisions for remediation funds when these turbines are no longer operative after 25 to 35 years. Who’s going to remove them, chop them up for the landfill? Who pays for this?
6. Very large swaths of the southern half of the North Sea have become unfishable commercially due to the proliferation of wind turbines off Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. The Vineyard Wind Record of Decision states commercial fisherman will most likely abandon fishing in the lease area. The same is likely in the entire area needed to build Biden’s 30 GW target, an area the size of Connecticut.
7. The rotation speed at the blade tips is estimated at 180 MPH. This will kill any birds that are unlucky enough to get hit, including endangered migratory Red Knots and certain bat species.
8. BOEM used a University of Delaware study of the visual impact of turbines on beach tourism and home values and determined the impacts would be minor. BOEM ignored the fact the study was based on 579-foot tall turbines, not the 853’ tall turbines planned for the Vineyard Wind project. One of the two study authors has publically stated because of the change in height, the study is no longer applicable. BOEM’s own study finding 600’ turbines would dominate the skyline at 15 miles was ignored. New York state officials used the BOEM study to create a 20-mile exclusion zone for turbine location. The exclusion zone should be increased to 33 miles given the taller height of todays’ turbines that could rise to 1115’. BOEM also ignored a University of North Carolina study where 38% of survey respondents of recent beach property renters said they would not return if turbines were visible. CRI conducted a direct mail poll to over 35,000 property owners for the Delaware coastline and three miles inland: 84% of the respondents were against visible wind turbines. We had a healthy 4% response rate.
9. The Record of Decision states major negative impacts for vessel traffic and Coast Guard search and rescue operations. This creates the twin hazard of more potential vessel collisions and more difficult rescue, and no mitigation strategy is presented.
10. Literally, millions of people from many states flock to the wonderful Atlantic beaches and have for generations. Estimates of drop-off of beach tourism due to visible turbines from Massachusetts to North Carolina of 15% to 38% will cost many billions and will not recover.
Given the above impacts of offshore wind turbines, you would objectively decide not to sign contracts to buy this expensive electricity and construct these wind turbines.
But today is not a social and political environment with no pre-conceived ideas about offshore wind.
Thirty years of environmentalists and their political and media cohorts preaching the benefits of green energy and demanding that all green energy technologies be installed (“invested in”) now is essentially a runaway train that is unlikely to be stopped.
Too many folks are planning to make it happen, and too few folks have no idea of the problems because the entities that want this to happen don’t want the public to know……until it’s too late.
So, if that is the situation, our coalition’s position is that no wind turbines be closer than 33 miles from the coastline. At that distance, you cannot see them from a 15 story condo at the beach. Given the premium cost of offshore wind, the likely abandonment of commercial fishing in any lease area, and the negative impacts on marine life we expect no suitable lease area will be found anywhere off the east coast.
-Save Our Beach View (Skipjack, DE)
-Caesar Rodney Institute (Skipjack, DE)
-Long Beach Island Coalition for Wind Without Impact (Atlantic Shores, NJ)
-Protect Our Coast NJ (Ocean Wind, NJ)
-Nantucket Residents Against Turbines (Vineyard Wind, MA)
-John Locke Foundation (Kitty Hawk Wind, NC)
-Thomas Jefferson Institute (Dominion Power, VA)
-Mackinac Center (Great Lakes)
-Main Policy Institute (Maine)
-Wind Action (National Wind Policy)