OFFSHORE WIND: Lobbying sets records as big coal, beach towns push back

Offshore wind companies spent unprecedented sums on influencing state policies last year, in response to official incentives promoting the renewable technology. "We are witnessing the first of a brand-new American energy industry," said Sopko. "The industry recognizes the importance of having a seat at the table."

The wave of expenditures in 2018, which had been building in previous years, coincided with growing competition over the rights to generate and sell offshore power, including from deep-pocketed European utilities and subsidiaries of fossil fuel companies.

It reacted to the establishment of new state policies encouraging investment in offshore wind projects, especially on the East Coast.

"We had legislation that was enacted [in New Jersey], setting goals for alternative energy production. What followed was a real increase in those firms lobbying to install wind turbines," said Jeff Brindle, executive director of New Jersey's Electoral Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), which publishes annual reports on lobbying in the state.

Federal officials have also sought to promote the industry, in spite of President Trump's comments attacking wind energy.

Last year, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management auctioned off three lease areas near Massachusetts. Winning bids totaled over $400 million, far surpassing that of previous BOEM auctions.

That outcome appears to be luring a fresh crop of companies into the lobbying game for the first time. During the first quarter of 2019, new entrants included turbine manufacturers, shipping interests and representatives of fisheries groups.

But state policies have created a market for the power.

In New Jersey, for instance, the governor ordered utility regulators to buy 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind. Legislators voted to require half of the state's power to be sourced from renewables by 2030. Regulators adopted a credit system to subsidize offshore wind.

The same year, developers paid lobbyists nearly $875,000 — well over three times the amount in 2017 — according to a tally from ELEC.

Fossil fuel and nuclear interests in the state were much more lavish spenders: the New Jersey Petroleum Council channeled more than $595,000 toward lobbyists, while the Public Service Enterprise Group, which was seeking subsidies for its nuclear plants, spent over $1.4 million.

Ørsted AS, by far the biggest offshore spender, paid lobbyists about $300,000.

Fighting state battles

On the East Coast, politicians from both parties tend to favor action to support offshore wind, said Nancy Sopko, co-director of the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind at the University of Delaware.

"These companies are creating long-lasting relationships that can span administrations," she said.

Still, some state-level lobbying has taken place within the context of ongoing battles between offshore developers and incumbent industries.

In Ohio, the nation's largest coal miner, Murray Energy Corp., has funded an economic-viability analysis and picked up legal tabs for opponents who testified against a six-turbine pilot project in the Great Lakes, according to press reports.

The Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo), the developer of the pilot, got tentative approval in July from the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) anyway. Disclosures show it lobbied OPSB along with the governor, natural resources authorities and the attorney general.

It's unclear how much either side spent.

"Being opposed by big coal and its deep pockets has added to the challenges of winning approval for this important effort to generate clean energy in Lake Erie. We have engaged in necessary and informative advocacy efforts in response," said David Karpinski, vice president of operations for LEEDCo. Murray Energy declined comment.

In Maryland, opposition originated from tourism-minded officials in the resort town of Ocean City who have fought to get two wind projects pushed out of sight of shore.

From November 2017 through October 2018, the town paid $67,000 to one of the state's best-known and best-compensated lobbyists, Bruce Bereano, for discussions with state and federal officials.

"The specific goal for the City Council in hiring Mr. Bereano is to assure wind turbines are not visible," said Jessica Waters, communications manager for the Town of Ocean City.

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