Daily Press - Both off-shore drilling, wind farms could be spoils of election

By Todd Allen Wilson, tawilson@dailypress.com | 804-643-0499

September 2, 2012

Whether it's drilling off shore for oil and natural gas, developing wind farms off the coast or a combination of the two, energy policy proposals from candidates of both parties seeking federal office could be a boon for Hampton Roads.

At first glance the Democratic and Republican parties seem miles apart when it comes to federal energy policy.

President Barack Obama has blocked drilling for natural gas and oil off Virginia's coast with a moratorium in place until 2017. As part of his re-election campaign he is pushing Congress to extend the wind production tax credit due to expire at the end of the year.

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney said he will allow drilling in Virginia's coastal waters in an effort to make the nation energy independent by 2020. He has called for letting the wind production tax credit expire and allowing the free market to make alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power profitable.

Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said that while the parties come at energy policy from different starting points in the end they both support the expansion of domestic fossil fuels and the growth of alternative, renewable energy sources.

Differing rhetoric

Democrats champion aggressive moves to expand reliance on alternative energy sources such as wind and solar, while using subsidies for the oil industry as a "whipping boy," Kidd said. But he said the Democrats don't say we need to cut the use of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas "cold turkey."

Republicans, he said, trumpet the expansion of harnessing the country's coal, oil and natural gas reserves to bring down energy costs and make the nation less reliant on foreign energy sources that are often hostile to the United States. But they also see the need in the long run for the development of alternative energy sources.

"Both sides realize we have to expand or energy resources beyond coal and oil, just one comes at it through the front door and one comes at it through the back door," Kidd said. "If we could scenario out Republican energy policy and Democratic energy policy, we might get to the same place 15 to 20 years out."

Kidd said Virginia and Hampton Roads are in a good position to profit from off-shore drilling for natural gas and oil as well as the development of off-shore wind farms.

Jeff Caldwell, spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, said the governor supports both off-shore drilling and wind farms and has led initiatives in both areas.

Benefits of drilling

Caldwell said latest figures received by the governor's office show that drilling for natural gas and oil off the coast will bring in 1,900 new jobs and provide $19.5 billion in revenue to federal, state and local governments.

While Obama has expanded oil and natural gas production domestically, in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico he has been reluctant to expand off-shore drilling.

That has Virginia Democrats bucking the president on the moratorium against off-shore drilling in Virginia.

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner have introduced legislation that would allow drilling in Virginia's coastal waters and includes provisions for revenue sharing between the federal and state governments.

Senate candidate and former Gov. Tim Kaine, a close political ally of Obama, and the Democratic challenger in the state's 2nd Congressional District, Paul Hirschbiel, both support the Webb-Warner plan.

Local Republican U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes, Chesapeake, Rob Wittman, Westmoreland, and Scott Rigell, Virginia Beach, are all on board, as is Newport News businessman Dean Longo, the GOP challenger in the 3rd District.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate and former Gov. George Allen says if elected he will sponsor legislation that allows for off-shore drilling with Virginia's share of the revenue being dedicated to funding the state's transportation infrastructure.

Drilling drawbacks

Romney specifically mentions off-shore drilling in Virginia in his energy plan. But Steve Yetiv, professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said reliance on fossil fuels off the state's coast should not be seen as a quick fix as it faces objections from the Department of Defense and raises questions about environmental concerns.

He said studies need to be done as to how much natural gas is really accessible in Virginia's coastal waters, and added that the recent "revolution" in natural gas has made the industry less profitable. A 30-year-old study shows that the region off Virginia contains roughly 6.5 days worth of the nation's oil consumption and around 11 days worth of natural gas.

Adam Cook, Wittman's Democratic challenger in the 1st District, opposes drilling off Virginia's coast because "three-fourths of the area" under consideration is used by the Navy for training exercises.

Ret. Navy Adm. John Nathman said drilling in the region is an issue of national security, because this is one of only two areas where the Navy can conduct large scale training exercises such as "carrier battle group training exercises, including anti-submarine and gunnery exercises, pilot training, and other test operations."

U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, opposes off-shore drilling in Virginia due to environmental concerns and the effect it could have on the region's sea-food and tourism industries.

Yetiv said he wouldn't "underestimate the chances of an environmental catastrophe." He said while off-shore drilling has the potential for positive effects on the region, "voters should demand" serious studies on the risks.

He said the real potential for job creation and sustainable energy policy lies in "the green revolution" that includes wind energy.

Off-shore wind farms

A 2010 study from the Advanced Research Institute at Virginia Tech estimates that off-shore wind farms in Virginia could create "9,700 to 11,600 career-length jobs" over the next 20 years.

Pete Daikun, vice president of energy programs at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, said his company is willing and has the capabilities to provide those jobs as the industry develops in the region.

He said the shipyard has the capacity to build the large-scale components needed for off-shore wind turbines and would use its Apprentice School to train the necessary workers.

Newport News Shipbuilding was in the process of developing and installing a prototype off-shore wind turbine of the Virginia coast with Spanish company Gamesa. The partnership with Gamesa is on hold for now, Daikun said, as Gamesa decided in May to install the prototype in Spanish waters instead.

One of the reasons Gamesa cited for its decision was the uncertain future of the wind production tax credit, which expires at the end of the year if Congress doesn't extend it.

Challenge on tax credits

Romney opposes the tax-credit extension, which many Republicans call an example of Democratic "cronyism." Instead he calls for an easing of regulations to make it easier for companies to enter the alternative energy markets. He also wants to invest more in research and development in alternative energy.

Wittman has legislation that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives that lowers regulations for off-shore wind farms, but does not offer tax credits or subsidies for wind energy.

Of the local GOP candidates, only Rigell has said he is considering supporting the extension. A campaign spokesman said while the freshman lawmaker supports off-shore wind farms he is still undecided on the tax credit.

Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has called on Romney to support the tax credit, which was authored by a fellow Iowan, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. In Iowa wind farms produce 20 percent of the state's energy.

Campaign messages on energy policy

Presidential

President Barack Obama Virginia state spokeswoman Marianne von Nordeck:

"President Obama knows that energy independence is critical to creating jobs at home, ensuring our national security, and growing an economy built to last. The president believes we need an all-of-the-above energy strategy that capitalizes on all of America's natural resources, and thanks to his policies, our dependence on foreign oil is at the lowest level in 20 years. While the president is investing in clean technologies and passing new fuel economy standards that will save drivers money at the pump, Republicans are continuing to protect taxpayer-funded subsidies for oil companies that are making record profits."

Mitt Romney state spokesman Curt Cashour:

"Governor Romney is committed to a true all-of-the-above energy policy which will increase production of domestic oil and natural gas, and help Virginia's coal industry thrive, not shut down. As president, he will reverse President Obama's offshore drilling ban, end the war on coal, and approve the Keystone Pipeline. Increasing energy production from Virginia's coal fields to its coast is at the heart of the Romney-Ryan Plan For a Stronger Middle Class, which will create 345,000 Virginia jobs, increase take-home pay, and achieve North American energy independence by 2020."

Visit dailypress.com/news/politics for more campaing messages from local candidates