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This story by ESI Journalism Fellow Tristan Baurick was originally published in the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate, where it appears with additional photos and resources.
In late May, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution that was largely drowned out by a local news cycle of hurricanes, the pandemic and the final rush of bills in the Louisiana Legislature.
But they heard about it in Denmark. The resolution, which requires its main utility to generate almost all of its power from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2040, is just the kind of thing that attracts the attention of Orsted, a Danish energy company and the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power.
“It was a strong signal,” said Hayes Framme, Orsted’s government relations manager for North America. “It was a signal that Louisiana policymakers are looking for ways to drive down carbon emissions in their electricity sector. And that is enticing for us.”
Similar requirements, known as renewables portfolio standards, have been passed in Baltimore, Phoenix, Boise, and dozens of other cities, as well as 30 states, including California, New York and North Carolina.
The standards have had big impacts. About half of the renewable energy sector’s growth since 2000 is thanks to state-level renewable standards, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The standards spur the development of renewable energy projects because they guarantee a market for the power they produce. That’s especially important for offshore wind farms, which can cost billions of dollars and take years to plan and permit.
Massachusetts’ requirement that its electric utilities buy a combined 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power is a big reason why the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project is taking shape off its coast, with the help of Danish offshore wind investor Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
With more than 60 turbines planned during its initial phase, Vineyard Wind is the U.S.’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm and is expected to kickstart a building boom that could dot the East Coast with more than 2,000 turbines over the next decade.
New Orleans’ resolution was the first renewable energy standard in Louisiana. Under its rules, 90% of the power that Entergy Corp. provides the city must come from renewable sources within 19 years. By 2050, 100% of New Orleans’ power must be emission-free.
“This is the catalyst for New Orleans’ transition away from fossil-fueled power generation and towards a clean and resilient future,” council member Helena Moreno said when the resolution was adopted. “New Orleans is on the front line of climate risk, as we recently saw with the storms we had. The coast, the economy and our future depend on our bold action.”
The council’s action might be bold, but it isn’t especially big — at least from a wind developer standpoint. Framme said Orsted and other offshore wind companies would need similar commitments from markets larger than New Orleans, a city of 380,000 residents.
“What we’d love to see is Louisiana do the same as New Orleans,” Framme said. “Louisiana would create the opportunity for a larger customer base.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards has expressed support for offshore wind energy, but action has been slow to follow. In June, he hosted Wind Week, a series of virtual panels about the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore wind potential, and he backed a federal task force focused on offshore wind energy development in the Gulf.
Late last year, Edwards created a Climate Initiatives Task Force with the goal of drafting strategies to cut Louisiana’s greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28% by 2025 and reaching “net zero” emissions by 2050.
In August, the task force released a draft “action portfolio” calling for a renewables standard that would require Louisiana to generate half its energy from offshore wind and other clean energy sources by 2035. By 2050, 80% of electricity would need to be generated from renewable sources, under the task force’s proposal. The group’s final plan is expected sometime next year.
Until Louisiana offers stronger enticements, offshore development in the Gulf might lean toward Texas, which has strong coastal winds, a large energy sector and a renewables standard it passed more than 20 years ago. Texas also boasts more populous cities — Houston and Dallas among them — that have renewables standards.
“As offshore wind ramps up, and markets become a bit more certain with these (renewables portfolio standards) in other states, it turns what may be just interest into real opportunity,” Framme said. “It moves us more towards a willingness to commit resources to go after those opportunities.”