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Tina Casey headshot

Koch Brothers Win the Wind Energy Battle, Lose the War

By Tina Casey

In the race to tap offshore wind energy, the U.S. is lagging far behind other countries around the globe. That's thanks in part to the efforts of the Koch brothers, whose influence is at play in the failure of Atlantic Coast states to take advantage of the renewable riches at their doorsteps.

However, some cracks in the anti-wind armor are beginning to appear. In the latest development, the U.S. Interior Department has designated more than 81,000 acres off the coast of New York state's Long Island  for wind energy production.

New York dips a toe in offshore wind energy development

While New York is an Atlantic coast state, its share of the coastline is minuscule compared to its size. The potential for offshore ocean wind energy exists only at the southernmost tip, where Long Island juts out into the ocean east of New York City.

Be that as it may, New York is poised to become one of the first Atlantic coast states to develop its offshore wind energy resources. That's a fair assumption given New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's ambitious renewable energy plans for the state

The Interior Department's plans for New York offshore wind energy development involve defining a "Wind Energy Area" consisting of about 81,130 acres, 11 miles south of Long Island.

The designation is a first step to opening up the acreage for large-scale, competitive wind energy leasing through the agency's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Offshore wind development in New York is also benefiting from the interest of the New York Power Authority, which happens to be the largest state-based energy agency in the U.S.:

"The Wind Energy Area is based on a proposal by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) in 2011, when it submitted an application for a commercial wind lease. At that time, NYPA proposed installing up to 194 wind turbines, each generating 3.6 megawatts (MW) for a total potential yield of nearly 700 MW of wind energy generation for the Long Island and New York City region."

Rules being rules, the Interior Department could not grant exclusive wind energy development rights to NYPA willy-nilly, so the proposal touched off a broader investigation of interest that resulted in the competitive leasing process.

Wind finally wins over oil and gas

The good news for wind energy fans comes right on the heels of yet another giant setback for the oil and gas industry. Last week, the Obama administration announced that oil and gas exploration on the outer continental shelf would be "off the table" for the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, at least for the time being.

Interference with military training sites and opposition by local stakeholders were main factors in the decision.

In the meantime, the administration is plunging ahead with its program for realizing the massive wind energy potential of the relatively shallow waters off the Atlantic coast (the Pacific coast also has potential, but its deeper waters pose technological challenges).

Last year the Interior Department auctioned off or designated hundreds of thousands of acres for wind energy development off the coasts of New Jersey, South Carolina and Massachusetts, among other Atlantic states.

New Jersey is particularly notable because its governor, Chris Christie, is known to be friendly to the Koch brothers. His administration has failed to act on offshore wind energy development despite a state law designed for the very purpose of generating wind energy off its coasts, signed by Christie himself in 2010.

Similarly, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley also has a Koch connection. Despite her statements in favor of offshore wind energy, South Carolina has failed to move on developing its considerable offshore wind energy resources.

The political climate was more favorable in Massachusetts, but private development of an offshore wind energy project called Cape Wind was stymied for years by a series of lawsuits by the Koch-funded Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. Cape Wind would have been the nation's first offshore wind farm, but the long delays effectively closed its window for financing. After winning an important legal victory in 2014, Cape Wind's developer was forced to give up the ghost last year.

The situation is more favorable in Rhode Island, where the apparent absence of Koch-funded interference may have been a key factor in attracting the wind developer Deepwater Wind to the state. Construction of the massive Block Island Wind Farm got under way last year, providing the tiny state with claiming rights to the first offshore wind farm on the entire Atlantic coast.

As for those other setbacks for the oil and gas industry, in a moved that "stunned" supporters and opposers alike, last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency denied permission for the construction of a major natural gas export terminal and pipeline in Oregon.

Other recent developments include a crackdown on oil and gas wastewater disposal in Oklahoma, intensified scrutiny of methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands, and a rare $4.24 million jury verdict for in a water pollution case in Pennsylvania.

Image via U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey