The wind-rich waters of the California coast have tantalized offshore wind developers for years, and now the door has finally opened. Among those vying for a slot is the French firm TotalEnergies. The global energy producer’s continuing interest in the Russian fossil fuel industry could be a stumbling block, but the pressure to cut ties with a homicidal regime is growing. If TotalEnergies does not change its position soon, its new ventures in the US could be at risk.
TotalEnergies Wants A Piece Of The US Offshore Wind Pie
TotalEnergies is better known under its former name of Total, a leading global oil and gas producer with roots in the 1920s. A change is in the works, though, and TotalEnergies has set its sights on big renewable energy deals. In recent years, for example, Total has hitched itself to the 1,500-megawatt Seagreen 1 offshore wind project in Scotland and a 2,000-megawatt project in South Korea.
Just last week, Total also helped make history in the US renewable energy industry. The company participated in the largest offshore lease auction of any kind held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Mangement, including oil and gas leases.
Twenty-five companies qualified for the auction, seeking the right to develop up to 7 gigawatts of wind energy in the New York Bight, a corner of the ocean formed by the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island.
When the dust settled, six companies shared in the pot: Attentive Energy, Bight Wind Holdings, Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind Bight, Invenergy Wind Offshore, Ocean Winds East, and MidAtlantic Offshore Wind.
If you’re wondering where TotalEnergies comes in, that’s a good question. Our friends at Offshore Wind Biz Explain that Attentive Energy was a joint venture between TotalEnergies and the German company EnBW, but the two companies parted ways just a few days after Attentive nailed down the winning bid of $795,000,000 for an lease area of 84,332 acres, with a wind energy potential of more than 3 gigawatts.
TotalEnergies also formed a joint venture with the Simply Blue Group last fall, giving it claim to a total of 10 gigawatts in wind power under development through the TotalEnergies SBE umbrella.
Floating Offshore Wind Turbines For California
With the Attentive Energy lease under its belt, TotalEnergies has now turned its attention to California, where another floating wind opportunity is in the works.
The California coast is characterized by waters that are too deep for monopiles or other conventional, fixed-platform turbines. That explains why floating offshore wind turbines are part of the Golden State’s offshore wind story.
Floating offshore wind turbines are anchored to the ocean floor by cables, so they can be located in deeper waters. That may seem to be a money-saver compared to fixed platforms, but it’s not. However, new platform designs and the potential for co-locating solar panels, hydrogen electrolyzer, or wave energy converters (or all three), are among the factors that could help trim overall expenses whether the turbine platform is fixed or floating.
As described in a press release on Monday, TotalEnergies plans to participate in an upcoming BOEM lease involving an area off the coast of Morro Bay in central California. For this project, the company’s instrument is the Castle Wind joint venture, which was initially formed by EnBW and the US company Trident Winds. Trident is still there, but TotalEnergies acquired EnBW’s stake.
“This partnership in Castle Wind is another important step for TotalEnergies to contribute to the US offshore wind industry ramp-up, and fulfill its global ambition of becoming a top five producer of renewable energy worldwide by 2030,” said the company’s head of US Offshore Wind.
In an interesting twist, Trident Winds founder and CEO Alla Weinstein began her renewable energy career in the wave energy conversion field. If Castle nails a winning bid, perhaps a wave energy co-location could be in the works.
More Floating Offshore Wind For The US
In another interesting twist, Ms. Weinstein also founded the US company Principle Power, one of the early leaders in the floating turbine platform field. Principle initially tested its designs off the waters of Oregon and found its first commercial markets in Europe.
Regardless of whether or not Principle eventually comes home to the US for a hookup with Castle Wind, Ms. Weinstein is confident that the TotalEnergies joint venture is a winner.
“We have come a long way since first identifying the opportunity for offshore wind development in California in 2016 and stand today at the precipice of a generational opportunity to secure California’s clean energy future,” she said, adding that “TotalEnergies’ experience and expertise, With over 10 GW of offshore wind projects under development, will be invaluable as we work towards making offshore wind a reality in California.”
We’ll find out soon enough. BOEM is forging ahead with plans to lease the Morro Bay site as early as Q3 of 2022.
TotalEnergies Just Can’t Quit LNG…Yet
As further evidence that TotalEnergies is taking a sharp turn into the US renewable energy field, last month the company acquired the commercial and industrial business of SunPower, a leading US solar installer and developer.
TotalEnergies was already the majority shareholder in the company, and the acquisition will enable it to ramp up its activities in the distributed, business-to-business aspect of the renewable energy field.
“With this acquisition, TotalEnergies is further investing to grow its distributed generation activity in the US and support its B2B customers in meeting their sustainable development goals. It is a new milestone in our renewable development in the country, where we are targeting 4 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2025”, said Vincent Stoquart, senior vice president Renewables for TotalEnergies.
Stoquart also mentioned something about leveraging the deal to get a strong foothold in the residential market, so stay tuned for more on that.
On the down side, TotalEnergies is still deeply embedded in the global fossil economy, and the company now finds itself entangled in the fallout from Russia’s unprovoked, murderous attack on Ukraine.
On March 1, TotalEnergies issued a public statement in which it condemned Russia, supported Europe’s economic sanctions against the rogue nation, and pledged to supply fuel and other aid to Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees.
The company also stated that it will “no longer provide capital for new projects in Russia,” which leaves the potential open for continuing its existing activities, including the $21 billion Arctic LNG 2 project. The project is spearheaded by the privately owned Russian company Novatek with a 60% share. According to Reuters, TotalEnergies holds a 10% share. Two Chinese companies and a Japanese consortium also each hold 10%.
As of this writing TotalEnergies has not officially bailed on Arctic LNG 2, which is still under construction. However, Reuters reports that Italy has shelved its role in financing the project. Apparently the agreement is still in effect, but an estimated $560 million loan is now on ice.
TotalEnergies is also in the doghouse with climate advocates over its post-Total rebranding. A group of environmental organizations brought a lawsuit against the company in France on March 2, charging the company made false claims about its ability to decarbonize while rebranding itself with a supposed net zero goal.
Between the greenwashing charge in its home country and its new ties to the US, TotalEnergies has all the more reason to drop its business in Russia.
The Russian attack of 2022 is a horrific echo of the human-made 1932-33 famine, widely recognized as an act of genocide organized by the Soviet Union under the leadership of Josef Stalin. The emerging consensus among researchers is a death toll of 3.9 million, though the actual number may be far higher. If TotalEnergies truly wants to do the right thing, it will join the global effort to isolate the homicidal leader of a nation with a long track record in mass atrocities, and force a halt to this latest assault on the people of Ukraine.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Illustration: Offshore wind turbines courtesy of the US Department of Energy (credit: Josh Bauer, National Renewable Energy Laboratory).
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