with Paulina Firozi

New Jersey wants to be the capital of the offshore wind energy industry. So it is building a giant port.

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced on Tuesday that his state will stage construction for the colossal turbines that may one day dot the East Coast horizon as Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states rush to build more renewable energy.

“We’ll be able to be the focal point for the industry in this part of the country,” Murphy said in an interview.

For New Jersey, it is about more than just tackling climate change. 

“We have a huge opportunity,” said Tim Sullivan, chief executive of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. “Somebody's going to get to be the Houston of American offshore wind.”

To help ensure New Jersey plays that role, the state government is planning to turn 30 acres along the Eastern Shore of the Delaware River 20 miles south of Wilmington, Del., into a staging area for assembling the massive turbines. Taller than 800 feet, the turbines will tower higher than the Washington Monument.

State leaders are also hoping to coax factories to the rural area, too, and have set aside 25 acres for potential turbine part manufacturers. They aim to start construction next year and launch operations by 2024. Another 160 acres will be available for future development.

The port is part of the state’s broader plan to get all of its electricity from clean energy by the middle of the century. 

New Jersey, already one of the nation’s fastest-warming places, wants to generate 7,500 megawatts from offshore wind by 2035 — enough to power half of New Jersey’s homes.

Murphy also has his sights on supplying Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia with the turbine port, all of which have plans to build offshore wind generation along the Eastern Seaboard’s shallow waters.

“We want a significant piece of the supply chain in New Jersey,” Murphy said. “So we’re literally creating this industry from whole cloth.”

The port, he added, “is a huge step in that direction.”

The South Jersey spot checks off a number of boxes for politicians and engineers.

The site — named Artificial Island after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created it around 1900 — is five miles from the nearest residential area. It is already home to three nuclear reactors — run by Public Service Enterprise Group, an energy company based in Newark — to provide electricity.

And crucially, there are no bridges between it and the open ocean. That is important because after being assembled, the turbines are often stood upright and moved into place by ship.

New Jersey expects the port to employ 1,500 workers and cost up to $400 million to complete, with taxpayers and companies splitting the bill.

The announcement comes as Murphy is up for reelection next year. 

In 2017, he ran on the promise of kickstarting the state's offshore wind industry after years of foot-dragging by state official under former Republican governor Chris Christie.

The city of New Bedford, Mass., has a 28-acre turbine-assembly area. But it does not have the space New Jersey has to host manufacturing plants, Murphy’s office said. New York, too, is looking to invest up to $200 million to upgrade ports for offshore wind.

The offshore energy industry also welcomed Murphy’s announcement.

“Today’s focus on port infrastructure development shows the Garden State is positioning itself as a first-mover in the race to capture the jobs and investments associated with offshore wind manufacturing, assembly, and staging,” Laura Morton, a senior director at the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement.

Dan Reicher, who ran the Energy Department’s renewable energy office under Bill Clinton and is not involved in the New Jersey project, added that Murphy’s plan is “a serious shot in the arm at a very difficult moment” as the country confronts both climate change and covid-19.

Over the past decade, wind energy has eaten into the market share of coal and nuclear power. 

It now accounts for about 7 percent of all the nation’s electricity.

But virtually all that generation is happening in windswept prairie states, such as Iowa and Kansas, along with Texas.

Europe, by comparison, is far ahead in harnessing fiercer ocean winds, with over 5,000 offshore turbines connected to the grid in a dozen countries. Denmark, England, Germany and Northern Ireland all have ports specialized for wind turbine construction.

The United States, meanwhile, has only five utility-scale offshore turbines — all off Rhode Island.

But that may soon change, with Maryland, Massachusetts and New York also setting major targets. The enormous size of the turbines means that much of the manufacturing will happen domestically.

One issue: Any project in federal waters requires permits from the Trump administration.

In speeches, President Trump is hostile toward wind turbines, accusing them without evidence of causing cancer. But his deputies at the Interior Department have gone ahead with lease sales off three states.

But last year, approval for an 84-turbine project off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts hit a snag when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said it required more study on the impact to commercial fishermen.

Jane Cohen, a senior environmental policy adviser for Murphy, said they are in touch with federal officials and “feel confident that these projects will be able to move forward.”

James Manwell, professor and director of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said it would make more sense for the U.S. government to coordinate construction between the states — like it did in the shipbuilding boom during World War II.

“If this was a rational world,” he said, “the federal government would take a greater role.”

Power plays

A federal appeals court upheld the cancellation of a long-disputed federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region near Glacier National Park. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled a lower court was wrong to reinstate the lease after the Interior Department canceled it in 2016. The lease was for an area near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, on sacred land for the tribe, Montana Public Radio reports.

“Moncrief Oil and Solenex LLC took the Interior Department to court arguing that the agency lacked the authority to cancel the lease decades after it was issued. The lower court didn’t issue a decision on the agency’s authority, but ruled its delay in granting permission to drill violated federal law and reinstated the leases,” per the report. “The latest appellate court ruling says that delay did not invalidate the Interior Department’s decision to cancel all leases in the area, and remanded the case back to the lower court."

Coronavirus fallout

A group of 180 Democrats wants House leaders to invest in the clean energy sector that's facing major job loss. 

Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) calling for tax credits to be doled out instead as direct payments, the Hill reports. They also requested a delay in the phasing down of tax incentives for renewable energy sources. 

The letter cites a May analysis that found the sector lost 600,000 jobs, and follows a more recent analysis from BW Research Partnership that the sector has lost more than 620,000 jobs since March.

“Investments in clean energy pay back dividends because of the breadth and geography that are impacted – either job losses will devastate the communities we represent, or economic relief for this sector will help them weather this crisis,” reads the letter led by Reps. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.). 

There are five coronavirus cases among staff at NOAA’s Lakeland, Fla., base.                                 

The base is the location of the agency’s “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, raising questions about whether the cases there will hamper the critical early warning system for storms, Andrew Freedman writes

“The five positive tests came back Friday, according to a statement from NOAA spokesman Jonathan Shannon. The sick personnel were last in the facility between June 3 and 8," he reports. “…Keeping covid-19, the disease the virus causes, out of NOAA facilities that are relied upon during hurricane season has been a significant concern going into the Atlantic hurricane season."

The wildfire season is here

PG&E Corp. pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges for its part in sparking California's deadliest wildfire. 

The company admitted fault in the 84 wildfire deaths from the 2018 Camp Fire on the same day that a separate judge said he intends to approve PG&E's reorganization plan as it moves toward a bankruptcy exit, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“PG&E Chief Executive Bill Johnson entered the guilty pleas for each of the felony counts of involuntary manslaughter, looking at the images of the 84 victims on a screen as Judge Michael Deems recited the counts in alphabetical order,” per the report. 

“Meanwhile in a separate hearing in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in San Francisco, Judge Dennis Montali said he intends to approve PG&E’s $59 billion reorganization plan, which involves issuing huge amounts of new debt and equity to help pay liability claims related to wildfires," the Journal adds. " …The proceedings bring PG&E closer to closing a dark chapter in its history, after fires sparked by company equipment killed more than 100 people and burned more than 15,000 homes in Northern California in 2017 and 2018.”

Wildfires are spreading across parts of California and in the desert Southwest. 

Brush fires prompted evacuations when they broke out near San Luis Obispo in California on Monday. Fires also popped up over the weekend between Phoenix and Tucson. 

Parts of California and the desert Southwest have experienced little rainfall and high temperatures – conditions ripe for fires, Matthew Cappucci reports.

“June is peak fire season in greater Phoenix and central Arizona. The month only averages 0.02 inches of precipitation — barely enough to measure — and afternoon highs top out around 104 degrees on average," he writes.

Global warming watch

Farmers and utilities are turning cow manure into energy. 

Dominion Energy is investing more than $200 million to work with Vanguard Renewables to capture methane from manure from dairy farms in numerous states and turn it into natural gas. 

“Dominion will own the projects and sell the gas. Vanguard will design, develop and operate the biodigesters. Farmers get paid for hosting the digester and benefit from the byproducts of the process, including heat for their property, livestock bedding and fertilizer,” Jim Morrison writes

“Why the investment? Poop is a pervasive problem, and a source of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide,” he adds. “Trapping methane, processing it and burning it for energy or selling it to the electric grid is a way to remove it from the atmosphere. It turns manure — a 1,400-pound dairy cow produces nearly 54,000 pounds of it annually — into money… Still, manure is a comparatively modest source of methane from cows." 

The Washington area has not yet seen a day with unhealthful air quality this year. 

That’s the latest on record that this has happened in a calendar year, Jason Samenow reports.

The fresh outdoor air and reduced emissions are a result of long-term policies for controlling pollution, but also a result of pandemic-driven shutdowns and economic slowdowns that led to fewer polluting vehicles on the road. 

“So far in 2020, the air quality index for metropolitan Washington has held in the good (green) range on all but seven days when it was moderate (yellow),” Samenow writes. “There have been no code orange or red days for air pollution.”