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    Editorials
    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Wind-power energy faces a critical moment

    The United States sits at a critical moment in efforts to stand up an offshore wind-power industry that can supply significant clean, renewable electricity to the densely populated, energy-demanding Atlantic Seaboard. Will this endeavor prove transformative or conclude with only a few projects that are more symbolic than impactful?

    Decisions made in the next year could provide the answer.

    On its editorial pages The Day has consistently supported plans to develop large wind-power fields off the East Coast. Its environment provides the consistent winds necessary to make this technology viable. And the Northeast needs the electricity.

    Our editorial board has backed the offshore wind efforts for the same reason it has backed development of a new generation of nuclear plants. If this nation, as a world leader, wants to get serious about dramatically reducing fossil-fuel dependence and mitigating the effects of a rapidly changing climate, it needs new, fossil-free energy sources.

    It is great to move from gas-powered cars to emission-free electric vehicles, but it won’t help unless there is clean electricity to charge them. Economic growth demands energy, but it will be counterproductive if that growth leads to increasing weather extremes.

    Done right, a new generation of clean-energy technology, including wind power, can produce job growth. Because of the need to fight climate change, and the economic benefits, The Day editorial board members have gritted their teeth and backed the transformation of State Pier in New London to support offshore wind development, while decrying the broken promises about cost control and the often fumbling, bumbling approach to getting the job done.

    Örsted issues warning

    Yet the whole wind-power effort is in danger of stalling. And if it does, restarting it could prove extremely difficult for reasons practical, political and economic.

    The expectation had been economies of scale eventually would lower the cost of production and construction. Instead, cost estimates are spiking due to inflationary pressures and supply chain disruptions tied to the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    These obstacles have led to some offshore wind projects scrapping their contracts and to others looking to renegotiate. One of the largest offshore wind developers in the Northeast and a partner in the State Pier redevelopment — the Danish firm Örsted — has warned it may cut its losses by walking away from projects that are becoming too costly. Örsted says a decision will come at the end of this year or early next.

    On Monday, electric utility Avangrid announced it was backing out of its agreement to provide 400,000 Connecticut homes with power from its Bridgeport-based Park City Wind project.

    Recognizing offshore wind development plans are threatened, the governors of six northeastern states — including Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont — recently wrote to President Joe Biden to take steps to bolster the industry’s prospects. If Biden is serious about combatting climate change, he needs to act.

    The governors of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island are asking for updated guidance from the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service to clarify that offshore wind projects are fully eligible for federal clean energy tax credits approved under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

    The Biden administration needs to cut through the red tape and provide such clarification quickly. The whole point of this section of the Inflation Reduction Act was to support a new generation of clean-energy production.

    Tri-state effort

    The governors also want the administration to pick up the glacial-like pace of the permitting process before the glaciers melt. If Biden really wants to wage a war on climate change his administration must figure out how to streamline the permitting process.

    Finally, the governors want Biden to get squarely behind the Reinvesting in Shoreline Economies and Ecosystems legislation. Existing law requires that all revenue from offshore wind leases be funneled into the U.S. Treasury. The proposed legislation would allow a portion of lease revenues to be sent to the affected states. It would be used to address the costs of infrastructure connections, coastal restoration and other environmental mitigation.

    We back this legislation, but with the caveat that it includes assurances that the revenue be used to mitigate electric rates, not fatten state coffers.

    Anticipating larger projects could produce relative savings, and more attractive bid prices, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island announced Wednesday plans to solicit proposals for wind-energy projects that would serve all three states. It is worth a try.

    Yet even all this may not be enough. The industry cannot proceed without reasonable cost containment. There must be a price ceiling. Wind power should not succeed by gouging ratepayers. This past summer, for example, Rhode Island Energy turned down the only bid it received in response to wind-power energy proposals after concluding the electricity produced would be unaffordable. It was the right decision.

    If the nation, and the world, cannot find the means to meet energy demands with clean-energy technologies that are reasonably affordable, it may indeed lose the battle against climate disruption, with dire consequences for future generations.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.