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When I became the writer of this newsletter in April 2018, the first thing I covered was the travails of offshore wind in Maine. This week, we go back and see how much difference a new governor has made. This is part of an eventful year for offshore wind along the East Coast.

I’m Dan Gearino, your guide to the clean energy economy. Send me news tips and questions to dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org, and thanks for reading!

— Dan

‘Back to the Future’ for Offshore Wind in Maine

We are approaching the end of the year when U.S. offshore wind energy was poised to take off in a huge way. I’m going to focus today largely on the forward progress, because there’s a lot of it.
 
My colleague Kristoffer Tigue has a story this week about how Maine is moving forward with Aqua Ventus, a demonstration project with up to two wind turbines that would be the first floating offshore wind installation in the country.
 
I asked Sean Mahoney, the Maine-based executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation, about the pilot.
 
“I would say that we’re getting back to the future,” he said.
He is referring to the fact that Maine regulators approved planning for a similar project in 2013, a partnership between the University of Maine and the Norwegian energy company Statoil (now called Equinor).
 
That project fell apart largely because then-Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, raised concerns over costs. His appointees reopened a competitive bidding process, which led to delays that made Equinor drop the project. This was part of LePage’s larger record of hostility to renewable energy.
 
Aqua Ventus rose out of the ashes of that defeat, as the University of Maine continued to develop floating offshore wind technology. The political environment changed drastically when Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, took office in January. She took quick steps to make Aqua Ventus happen.
 
The wind project could be operational by 2022.
 
While small, it’s an important project. Maine, with its vast coastline and brisk winds, has substantial potential for developing offshore wind. Since much of the water is too deep for turbines that attach to the sea floor, the harnessing of this wind depends on being able to use floating turbines, a new technology.
 
If it succeeds, Aqua Ventus could open the door to a potential bonanza of clean electricity and future economic development for Maine.
 
It doesn’t erase the frustration of the delays under LePage, and it doesn’t restore the time and money lost during that time by groups pushing for the project. But it does show that setbacks can be overcome.
 

Just South of Maine, Offshore Wind Projects Make Progress

Meanwhile, much larger projects are moving toward construction along the East Coast.
 
But first, one setback: Vineyard Wind, the 800-megawatt project off Massachusetts, will not meet its target of starting construction by the end of the year.
 
This was going to be a major milestone for the country’s first super-size offshore wind farm, but it’s been delayed because a federal agency says it needs more time before issuing an environmental permit.
 
Other than that, offshore wind continues to move forward.
 
This week, we saw movement that could help Vineyard Wind and other New England projects secure needed approvals. Vineyard Wind is one of five developers that announced they are working together to submit a proposal to the U.S. Coast Guard in which each would use a similar pattern for laying out, and spacing out, their turbines.

This is an important step that could help address a major concern of the fishing industry and unblock some of the regulatory logjam. Fishing groups have argued that their businesses would be harmed because the wind farms—several of which would be near one another—were not designed to have the same distribution pattern. Rows of turbines would be oriented in different directions, disrupting the paths of fishing boats.
 
The developers now say they will use a uniform pattern, one that spaces turbines at least 1 nautical mile apart. That way, fishing boats can easily travel between the rows of turbines, even as they pass from one farm to another.
 
Stepping back to look at the bigger picture on the East Coast, New York and New Jersey have selected developers for projects that will be even larger than Vineyard Wind. Maryland and Virginia are among other states moving forward with their own plans.
 
Many of the projects are tied to state laws requiring offshore wind energy. On this front, New Jersey took action this week when Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order increasing his state’s goal to 7,500 megawatts, up from 3,500 megawatts.
 
What we lack is “steel in the water,” said Sean Mahoney, of the Conservation Law Foundation. The actual construction hasn’t happened yet, except for the one small project in place already, Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, whose five turbines have been operating since 2016.
 
But Mahoney is hopeful that much of the work in 2019 was setting up a construction boom that is just about to begin. He also sees an increasing acceptance that offshore wind is an essential part of the transition to clean energy.
 
“There are a lot of reasons, I think, to be optimistic,” he said.
 

An EV Ford Mustang Aims to Bring Some Muscle

Ford gave the public its first look this week at an all-electric Mustang SUV, a model that will help gauge U.S. car buyers’ appetite for a big, powerful electric vehicle.
 
The Mustang Mach-E made its debut ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show, and is set to arrive in showrooms in late 2020. Its starting price is about $45,000 and it comes with a battery range of 230 miles. (For comparison, the latest Ford Explorer, the company’s most popular SUV, has a starting price of $32,765.)
 
The new Mustang is notable because of what it says about Ford and EVs, said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Cox Automotive.
 
“It’s clear that Ford wants to aggressively go after the budding electric car market and specifically the success that Tesla has seen in the electric car market,” he told me. “They’re really chasing that Tesla mojo.”
 
The use of the Mustang name shows that Ford is “pulling every lever they’ve got to raise awareness and consideration of this vehicle,” he said.
 
The Ford Mustang is a model that dates back to the 1960s and is known for being sporty and powerful. The Mach-E is something new, an SUV that runs on electricity. It will be sold alongside the existing gas-powered Mustang models.
 
Ford also is preparing an all-electric version of its top-selling model, the F-150 pickup, which could be available as soon as 2021.
 
Brauer doesn’t expect the Mustang Mach-E and other new EVs to have sales high enough to leap into the mainstream now occupied by gasoline models. Instead, he thinks Ford’s EV push is an important part of what will be a steady increase.
 
“This is going to be a slow process of impacting and penetrating a wider and wider buying demographic,” he said.
 
Electric vehicles are less than 2 percent of cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. The share is rising as more EV options come on the market and as more charging stations come online, but these are all small steps toward changing a business in which nearly all sales and profit come from gasoline models.

(Photo: Ford Motors)
 

Can a Field of Mirrors Slash Industry Emissions?

There was a lot written this week about Heliogen, a startup that uses artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to generate heat high enough to be used in industrial processes such as making steel. The buzz came after the company went public with its plans after a long period of relative secrecy.
 
The company, boosted by investment by Bill Gates, presents itself as a way to reduce carbon emissions in heavy industry. That’s a worthy goal, considering that industry accounts for 22 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and much of that total comes from producing cement and steel.
 
The company says the field of mirrors can be customized to produce heat or electricity. This versatility means the product could, theoretically, displace natural gas or fossil fuel electricity.
 
“We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions,” Bill Gross, Heliogen’s founder and CEO, said in this CNN story. “And that's really the holy grail.”
 
But it is a big leap to go from developing a technology to having customers willing to pay for it, and we have yet to see if Heliogen can do this.
 
Jenny Chase, an analyst for BloombergNEF, tweeted some of her skepticism:
 
“It’s really hard to get long-term offtake contracts for industrial heat, because factories don't know if they will be around in 20 years. Will get excited about Heliogen when it has offtake contracts, that's more of a challenge than the technical.”
 
The upshot is that the world needs technologies like this, but it’s too soon to call this one a breakthrough.

(Photo: Heliogen)

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