RENEWABLE ENERGY

Trump's punt on offshore wind sparks lobbying blitz

Offshore wind companies are beefing up their presence on K Street as the Trump administration sidesteps and delays federal reviews of sprawling projects off the East Coast.

At least two dozen companies and associations are lobbying the federal government on offshore wind policy as of the end of 2019, either by themselves or through at least 18 lobbying firms, an E&E News analysis of disclosures filed with Congress shows. The companies include developers, utilities and suppliers, along with environmental and public health groups that see offshore wind as a worthwhile clean energy source.

Anthony Logan, an offshore wind market research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said it makes sense for companies to be looking for lobbying help now.

"Everything seemed like it was smooth, and there was a process, and the policy — at least from the federal government — was minimal, and that was a good thing," he said. "And then, all of the sudden, having the additional study, that threw everyone on their back foot and made them realize they have to be more proactive."

The lobbying push — which includes some companies enlisting people close to President Trump — arrives on the heels of the administration delaying the proposed Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts and its decision last year to hold off on all new offshore wind approvals while it undertakes a comprehensive environmental review to assess the cumulative impact of the numerous wind farms planned for the Atlantic coast. The Interior Department said this month that it won't complete that review until the end of the year.

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The American Wind Energy Association, for example, has long been advocating on offshore wind but in December retained CGCN Group to lobby just on offshore permitting. The Republican firm, which made $15,000 from AWEA in that month, employs Mike Catanzaro, President Trump's former energy adviser, although he was not listed as participating in the AWEA advocacy.

AWEA said it does not comment on its lobbying.

The industry, currently in its infancy, is also looking for a larger foothold in the market. Only one project — Rhode Island's Block Island Wind Farm — is in operation. Most of the developers are European companies, which are hiring U.S. lobbying firms to help them both sort through the complex, foreign, multi-agency leasing and approval process, and to try to influence the process for the long term.

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Spanish-owned Avangrid Inc. and Denmark's Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, hired five lobbying firms last year as it navigates through Interior's approval process. In all, it spent $690,000 on federal lobbying last year.

The firms include Holland & Hart LLP, where Thomas Sansonetti and Kelly Johnson, the top Justice Department officials under President George W. Bush on environmental matters, are lobbying for the company at a cost of $140,000 since starting in August. BGR Group, the firm co-founded by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), has made $280,000 from the company.

North East Offshore LLC, a joint venture of Denmark's Ørsted A/S and utility Eversource Energy planning one wind farm off Rhode Island and another off New York's Long Island, hired Ballard Partners to lobby for it in November, at a cost of $60,000 by the year's end. The firm's head lobbyist is Brian Ballard, a longtime close ally to Trump who was a top fundraiser for him in the 2016 election.

Ørsted is one of the biggest players in U.S. offshore wind. It's in partnerships that own wind rights in tracts up and down the East Coast, usually with utilities, off the coasts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. Its lobbying firms including Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC and Jim Massie and Partners.

Ørsted spent $490,000 on lobbying in 2019, up from $330,000 the prior year.

The company said it wants to make sure it's part of the policy conversation as offshore wind progresses.

"As offshore wind is an almost entirely new industry in the U.S. Ørsted, like many companies in many different industries seeks to ensure the company's voice is heard during critical moments in policy and regulatory development," a spokesman said.

Bernhardt, Pelosi ties

But Interior approval isn't the only policy issue facing the offshore wind industry. Congress recently added one year to the production tax credit that all wind companies can get, and lawmakers are considering bipartisan legislation that would add a tax credit just for offshore wind to spur that industry.

"There's definitely interest from the offshore industry in having an offshore-specific support scheme," said Max Cohen, an analyst at IHS Markit.

Equinor ASA, the Norwegian company formerly known as Statoil, has been lobbying aggressively, with at least some effort focused on Capitol Hill. Its offshore wind unit has been paying Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, the former employer of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, $110,000 per quarter since 2017. The lobbying team includes Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"Equinor believes there is significant potential for the development of the offshore wind industry in the U.S. Strong policies and regulations are shaping the current development on the East Coast, and we understand that working with all stakeholders to convey our views and positions regarding that potential is vital to ensuring the industry thrives," said Equinor spokesman David Marks.

Not all of the lobbying is coming from big East Coast developers.

Anbaric Development Partners, for one, is hoping to build large electric grids to serve offshore turbines, simplifying the process so that each development does not need its own transmission infrastructure. It's been paying HBW Resources $40,000 per quarter since 2018 to help navigate that approval process, including an unsolicited application it made to Interior.

"We think it's sound policy to think through and plan an offshore wind grid network that will, in a very cost-effective way, allow us to get that clean energy to demand centers," said Kevin Knobloch, president of New York OceanGrid LLC, an Anbaric subsidiary focused on building a grid for wind farms off that state's coasts.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp., meanwhile, is trying to put turbines off Ohio's shore in Lake Erie. It's retained High Street Strategies LLC to help work through the unique federal policy issues presented there.

"This is still a new and fast-growing American energy industry and staying abreast of all that happens on Capitol Hill is an important priority of LEEDCo," the company said in a statement. "We will continue to stand with our colleagues in the offshore wind industry and play an active role in any and all discussions in Washington pertaining to the offshore wind industry."

Twitter: @Timothy_CamaEmail: tcama@eenews.net

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