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Climate Change

NHPR's New Podcast 'Windfall' Dives Into The Birth Of The U.S. Offshore Wind Industry

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Today, NHPR launches a new series from our podcast Outside/In. It's called Windfall, and it investigates the birth of a new American industry: offshore wind.

Over the next five weeks, we’ll look at what this massive new technology means for climate change, money and power in the U.S. And we’ll ask: Why did it take so long to get here?

Listen to the first episode below, or at windfallpodcast.org. You can see graphics, get a preview of the upcoming episodes and learn more about our reporting process there, too.

To hear more about the series, NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley talked with NHPR energy reporter and Windfall co-host Annie Ropeik.

Rick Ganley: Annie, why do a special series on offshore wind? You mentioned actually in this first episode that the U.S. has just seven offshore wind turbines at the moment right now.

Annie Ropeik: Yeah. So we are in a moment right now where in the next several years we are poised to go from just those seven turbines in the water to potentially thousands just off the East Coast. And we know this has huge implications for trying to stop the worst effects of climate change. It's not the only solution, but it is one that here on the East Coast that we're particularly well-positioned to really scale up quickly. And that will have a lot of ripple effects, good ones, bad ones, things for people's jobs, for their livelihoods, economic inequality implications, whole coastal communities transformed.

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And, of course, the very first project in line is Vineyard Wind off the coast of Massachusetts. And people who want to build out wind in the Gulf of Maine, in the part of the ocean off of New Hampshire, are watching that project very closely to see what will happen. So we wanted to unpack all of that and ask how we got here and what it means for the future.

Rick Ganley: So what can listeners expect from this?

Annie Ropeik: Well, one of the themes of the show is just the huge scale of this industry in every way. So the size of the turbines, you know, the blades can be longer than a 747 airplane. The size of the money, we're talking billions per project, potentially trillions across the industry in just a matter of years. You know, it's kind of unimaginable. And we try to take on that question of whether capitalism, traditional big-money financing is the right way or the only way to do this as quickly as experts say is needed to fight climate change.

And we also take on this really kind of gut-wrenching conflict that the fishing industry is experiencing with the growth of wind technology. You know, people may have heard that there are big emotions, big fears there. There are a lot of unanswered scientific questions. So we dove into that in a way that I think people will find really thought-provoking. We also hear a lot about how mature the industry already is in Europe, which I think will surprise folks. I mean, it's like it's a different world out there when it comes to wind. And they're just in a completely different place than the US is when it comes to the growth of this industry and how long it's been around. And of course, we talk to the man who has been called the father of the modern wind turbine, who is delightful. You'll hear from him in the first episode. He is very Danish.

Rick Ganley: Very Danish. Yes. And part of why you got involved with this show is that some changes are coming to Outside/In itself after Windfall wraps up next month. Tell me about that.

Annie Ropeik: So what's going on there is that our founding Outside/In host, Sam Evans-Brown, who is also cohosting this wind series with me, is leaving the podcast after Windfall ends. He has taken another job and it's actually in clean energy advocacy. So we know this will raise questions for listeners and we wanted to address those head-on and transparently. There's actually an episode about this in the Outside/In feed right now, the one before this first episode of Windfall. And you can also get more details at windfallpodcast.org if people want to hear more.

But basically, Sam made this decision really recently after the reporting was done, but before we had done much editing or producing. So we wanted to kind of do an extra journalistic gut check on whether the show was fair and factual. And I have been reporting on wind and renewable energy and climate change in the newsroom for some time, as you know. So I got involved as part of the whole team that's been working on this, which also includes senior producer Jack Rodolico and all the other journalists who will keep making Outside/In.

Rick Ganley: OK, so some checks and balances there. The sticking point here with Sam's departure is that there's a big difference between journalism and advocacy.

Annie Ropeik: That's right. I mean, journalists tell a story. We present the relevant facts, the arguments, context, and we let you, the listener, decide what you think about it. As journalists covering climate change, Sam and I have been able to say facts like it's real, it's happening, human activity is causing it, there are many solutions. We can investigate the solutions. We can talk to people about the arguments for and against. But an advocate gets paid to support specific solutions. And that's what Sam is going to do after this. And among other things, he'll likely be advocating for offshore wind.

So that's why we've taken great pains, extra care to make sure that the show can stand on its own merits. Sam's new job hasn't overlapped at all with his work on Windfall. We hired an outside fact-checker for the series, Sara Sneath, The Outside/In team has worked on this for almost three years and we think it's a really important story, one that was reported, edited and produced by a full team of journalists, and we think you deserve to hear it and come to your own conclusions.

If you like Windfall, help us make more stories like it. Support Outside/In and NHPR with a donation today. To get biweekly email updates from the show, subscribe to our newsletter, Outside/In[box]

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