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August 31, 2022

Regulatory Reform Urgently Needed for Renewable Energy

Offshore wind is an example of money allocated and progress blocked.

Pres. Biden set a goal of 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind generating capacity for the US by 2030. A medium sized nuclear power plant has a capacity of about one GW. 30 GW can power a lot of electric cars not to mention run factories, keep the lights on, and displace dirty coal. According to an article in Reason: “Last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) made $3 billion available to upgrade ports so the equipment needed to install offshore wind turbines could be shipped out to sea, and the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included measures providing tax credits of up to 30 percent for offshore wind projects that are started before 2026.” Given the tax credits, there’s plenty of private money to finance the actual projects.

Unless there’s regulatory reform, almost no offshore wind is going to get built anytime in the near future!

After decades of effort America currently has only 42 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind capacity with another 932 MW under construction. Altogether, this is less than the output from an average-sized nuclear power plant. 18 GW are in permitting, none of them anywhere near the end of the process. Even when permits are granted, projects are typically delayed decades by after-the -permit appeals and lawsuits. According to Reason: “In July, for example, the DOE's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management canceled two potential wind energy developments off the coast of Long Island due to concerns that included ‘visibility from nearby beaches.’”

Environmental impact statements take on the average 4.5 years. The tax credits in the IRA for offshore wind are only for projects which begin construction before 2026. Ain’t gonna happen without permitting reform!

Offshore wind is just an example of infrastructure we can’t build even when the money is there. We are not going to achieve any of our infrastructure goals if we let “visible from the beach” or any number of other local impacts block projects. Here in Vermont people want cell towers but they don’t want to see them; unfortunately they don’t work when they’re hidden in the trees. Infrastructure has an impact. That impact must be balanced against the cost of not having the infrastructure. Once the balance has been determined – with local input, local interests or competing technologies must not be able to block or substantially delay projects as they can today.

A suggested three-step fix

  1. All federal permits must be issued or denied within 18 months of application. The requirements must be rigid but predictable.
  2. We must restate and reassert federal primacy in all interstate projects. This used to be the rule and it is what the Constitution provides for. Politics eroded this so, for example, NY State was allowed to block federally approved pipeline projects to bring much-needed Marcellus gas to New England because that’s what Cuomo wanted.
  3. No injunctions or restraining orders can be issued for permitted projects unless the opponents post a bond equal to the likely public and private cost of delay. If the appeal succeeds, the project stops (or is changed) and the bond is returned with interest. If the appeal fails, the bond reimburses the cost of delay

Regulatory reform is a huge opportunity for a bipartisan win for America. The administration must push it. Progressive Democrats won’t support any meaningful deregulation; Republicans should vote to make regulatory reform happen.

See also:

The Dynamo of Democracy

Confessions of a Stimulator

Jobs Rx: Make America Shovel Ready

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