Q&A with Jennifer Ivester Berry
Offshore, onshore wind-farm projects can coexist, lawyer says
Q: The most high-profile offshore wind farm proposal has been near scenic Cape Cod, Mass. Has the opposition to that development dampened the enthusiasm for offshore projects elsewhere in the United States?
A: Not necessarily. I think certain types of opposition (e.g. aesthetics, impact on wildlife or marine habitat, etc.) will always exist, and I think those issues can be handled with diligence and mitigation requirements, which is how things played out in the development of onshore wind farms. I do think that the uncharted regulatory environment and the high cost of offshore development could certainly stifle any meaningful progress. I would imagine that development of projects in other areas of the U.S. are probably on hold, or at least being slowed down, to see how things play out with the first few projects.
Q: Because of their higher costs, will offshore developments need a different type of federal incentive than the now-expired Production Tax Credit?
A: Economic incentives of some type will be essential to the development of offshore wind farms, just as they were for onshore development. Offshore wind projects are extremely expensive upfront, and if the U.S. is going to reduce its dependence on carbon-based energy in any meaningful fashion, the federal government must recognize that alternative energy development will have to be supported, to some degree, by the federal government.
Q: What might be the possible hazards for migratory birds with offshore wind farms?
A: Similar to onshore wind farms, there is the potential for wind turbines placed offshore to impact migratory birds. Offshore wind turbines also may impact marine life. That said, such potential does not mean that offshore wind development cannot be done in a way that does not threaten marine and wildlife. As has been the case with onshore wind development, certain restrictions and requirements can be implemented, such as minimize siting in sensitive locations and implementation of comprehensive monitoring programs. Offshore wind energy will contribute to the protection of wildlife from the negative effects of climate change by reducing carbon pollution, a reality that should be considered when evaluating the impact of offshore wind development on wild and marine life.
Q: Are offshore wind and onshore wind compatible? Would development of offshore wind farms reduce investments in onshore wind farms?
A: I think they are compatible, and I don’t think that offshore development will reduce onshore investment, at least not in the near future. If the U.S. is serious about significantly increasing the renewable energy component of its energy portfolio, then both types of developments will be needed. Given that the impact of offshore wind farms, both in terms of energy production and cost of development, will not be seen for quite some time, I expect investment in onshore developments to continue. At some point, however, if offshore developers are able to benefit from governmental incentives and economies of scale, I do wonder whether the onshore wind farms (which would arguably be 15-20 years old) will be abandoned for newer models, or if the demand for renewable energy will be of such magnitude that both types of developments can co-exist.
Paul Monies, Business Writer