Good news (for once): Government invests in wind energy & stops harmful mine in Alaska

Wind energy

The U.S. is finally starting to ramp up investment in wind power with projects planned for the East Coast, West Coast, and the western interior.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced last month that two companies won an auction to build wind farms off the coasts of the Carolinas. Duke Energy Renewables Wind bid $155 million for one lease, and French energy developer TotalEnergies Renewables won the other with a $160 million bid. Together, they will result in at least 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy, enough to power nearly 500,000 homes.

As part of their winning bids, the companies agreed to contribute a total of $42 million to workforce training and to help develop a U.S. supply chain for the offshore wind industry…“The new bidding credit in the Carolina Long Bay auction will result in tangible investments for workforce training and businesses in the United States, to ultimately create jobs in the U.S. across the industries needed to support achieving our offshore wind goals,” said BOEM Director Amanda Lefton.

The lessees are also required to use telemetry tracking stations on meteorological buoys to gather information on the offshore movements of birds and bats in the hopes of mitigating any environmental impacts.

The Department of the Interior also announced two offshore wind energy auctions off the California coast. The proposed leases would open up areas in the Pacific near Eureka and another parcel near Morro Bay (between Los Angeles and San Francisco), with the potential to power more than 1.5 million homes.

Onshore wind

The Bureau of Land Management issued the final approval last week for construction of major transmission lines connecting Wyoming to California, Nevada, and Arizona. The $3 billion, 732-mile long TransWest Express transmission line will transport electricity generated by wind energy in south-central Wyoming, where 900 wind turbines can produce 3,000 megawatts.

The added transmission capacity and increased number of “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” that the transmission lines would provide to Wyoming and the western grid set the stage for a major buildout of wind turbines in the state. When completed, that extra capacity and interconnectivity would also provide PacifiCorp — and possibly others — the ability to retire coal-fired power units in the state by meeting several new state-level power delivery and reliability requirements, according to University of Wyoming energy economist Rob Godby.

Pebble mine

The Environmental Protection Agency last week proposed protections for a watershed in Alaska that is the location of a future open pit mine. The Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, where more than 73 million sockeye are expected in a record return to spawn this summer.

The mine would result in the loss of almost 100 miles of stream habitat, 8.5 miles of salmon habitat, and 2,113 acres of wetlands and waters at the mine site, the EPA notes, drawing from the mine plan.

The mine developer, Pebble Limited Partnership, called the Bristol Bay deposit “one of the greatest stores of mineral wealth ever discovered,” including gold, copper, silver and molybdenum.

Pebble, for its part, called the EPA’s proposal a step backward not just for the mine, but for President Biden’s climate goals. Minerals like copper are used to make batteries and in other renewable energy technologies. Pebble said the administration shouldn’t hinder domestic production.

Further reading: “Alaska Natives Lead a Unified Resistance to the Pebble Mine,” NRDC

Social cost of carbon

The Supreme Court rejected red states’ attempt last week to block the Biden administration from using its own estimate of the social impacts of climate change.

The ‘social cost of carbon’ is an estimate of the economic damages of emitting a ton of carbon dioxide. Policymakers use the social cost of carbon to quantify the extra costs associated with carbon emissions that are not automatically reflected in market prices. The Obama administration had estimated the social cost of carbon at $43 a ton. Trump then lowered it to $3-$5 a ton, and Biden raised it to $51 a ton.

Republican states sued the Biden administration, arguing that Biden lacked the authority to raise the climate metric under the Constitution, which gives that power solely to Congress. Trump-appointee James Cain, of the Western District of Louisiana, agreed with the GOP and issued an injunction preventing the Biden administration from even considering the social cost of carbon. Two months ago, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Cain’s ruling.

While the Supreme Court denied the Republican states’ request to issue an injunction, it did not rule on the legality of the ‘social cost of carbon’ itself. The administration can use the $51 a ton metric as the case continues its way through the court system.