The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extended its licence for the construction of offshore wind turbines, which are designed to generate electricity from the sun.
The extension of the licence, which expires in 2018, follows a decision in April to move offshore wind from its original proposed location off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
This comes as the US Federal Government’s proposal to phase out coal-fired power plants in 2020 was voted down by Congress.
With the end of the coal industry in the US and a shift away from fossil fuels, many environmentalists have pushed for a shift to renewables.
“We’ve always been able to get away with these sorts of offshore and tidal power developments,” said Chris Thomsen, EPA administrator, in a statement.
“This extension is consistent with EPA’s position that offshore wind power is an important tool to address climate change and the need to protect the environment.”
However, a number of experts have questioned whether offshore wind can meet the US’s renewable energy targets.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the federal government’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires that 20% of US electricity come from renewable sources by 2030.
But it is unclear whether the EPA will actually make this 20% a reality.
“The RPS is a bit of a catch-22.
As it stands, it only gives us a few years to do something, and if the federal agencies doesn’t act by that deadline, we’ll have to wait and see,” Thomsens said.
On the other hand, Thomsengs said, it will allow the US to build out new projects and invest in more offshore energy.
“This extension means we’ll be able to continue to build our infrastructure, increase our production, and ensure that we can make the investments necessary to keep up with the times,” he added.
However some are questioning whether offshore renewable energy will be enough to meet US energy needs.
In April, the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA’s proposed RPS had not been adequately met, and the agency could not legally continue operating.
At the time, Thamsen said the decision would not impact the RPS at all.
While the EPA has made it clear that offshore renewable power is not the answer to climate change, Thommes said the agency’s stance is not entirely correct.
If we don’t have offshore wind, we won’t be able, he added, “to get the climate mitigation goals we need to achieve.”
“For the US government to get off of coal and nuclear and to focus on clean energy, it’s going to be a long, difficult, and expensive process, which I don’t think the Trump administration is prepared for,” Thommens said in a phone interview.
He added that the government could continue to support the offshore wind industry by funding renewable energy projects, but he argued the Trump Administration has no plans to do so.
“[The Trump Administration] has said they’re not going to fund offshore wind,” Thomasen said.
“But they’ve said they want to work with industry, so that means we’re going to need to look for new sources.”
If offshore wind does not meet the EPA targets, the agency has said that it will “review the options for developing alternative sources of renewable energy” in order to ensure the future viability of the industry.
Meanwhile, Thomasens said that if the offshore sector continues to grow, the EPA is confident that the renewable energy sector will “provide the clean energy that the country needs for the next generation.”
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattThomsenAP