BOSTON – With the largest purchase of offshore wind resources in the country on their doorstep, state officials say they want more information to provide proper environmental oversight.
On Friday a certificate was issued for Vineyard Wind’s April 30 draft environmental impact report, but because the company has now moved ahead to negotiate an 800-megawatt contract with three electric utilities companies a more comprehensive report is needed, according to Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton.
Massachusetts has an “interest in and obligation to provide a rigorous, robust and transparent environmental review process for the largest single procurement of offshore wind by any state in the nation,” Beaton wrote in the certificate.
The company, an equal partnership of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables, plans what is expected to be a $2 billion construction project to install 50 to 100 wind turbines in federal leased waters 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, with three energy export cables to make landfall on Cape Cod.
The sale of offshore wind power from the wind farm to the electric utilities on the mainland is part of a larger initiative by state leaders to reach a capacity of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2027.
As part of the typical review under the state’s environmental policy act, a draft and then a final environmental impact report are explanations by an owner of its project and alternatives to fully adhere to state and local environmental regulations. The state certificates issued on the reports, in turn, are guidance, describing what the company intends and what still needs to be addressed, strengthened or emphasized to ultimately avoid, minimize or mitigate damage to the environment.
In declaring the Vineyard Wind’s 1,380-page draft environmental impact report “inadequate,” Beaton said in Friday’s certificate that he is taking into account the company’s May 23 selection as the offshore wind competitor to move forward with contract negotiations with the utilities. Given the evolving circumstances, Beaton said he is asking for a supplemental draft environmental impact report from Vineyard Wind.
In turn, Vineyard Wind executives said Tuesday they welcome further project review offered by preparation of a supplemental report.
“Our goal remains to ensure a deliberate, transparent and complete assessment of the Vineyard Wind Connector project, which we continue to refine in order to ensure no substantial or lasting environmental impacts,” said Vineyard Wind Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens. “We believe the best outcome is a project shaped through listening and communicating.”
There is no deadline for the company to submit the supplemental report, but if not filed within three years more paperwork would be required from the company, a state spokesperson said. Once the company submits the supplement there would be a 30-day public comment period, and typically a project would then move toward firming up the final report as a precursor to more specific project permit applications.
Vineyard Wind executives have maintained in recent months that they intend to be ready to begin construction in 2019 and to be operational by 2021. By July 31, Vineyard Wind and the three electricity distributors must deliver a negotiated, long-term power purchase agreement to the state Department of Public Utilities.
The “Vineyard Wind Connector” project refers to the cable-laying that will occur from the wind farm, snaking along the seafloor and onto land in either Barnstable or Yarmouth, and the construction of a new substation in Barnstable to connect the offshore wind energy to the regional electrical grid. But Beaton’s June 15 certificate lays out a fuller scope of the many permits that are needed for the full construction, from federal agencies to the conservation commissions of Barnstable, Yarmouth and Edgartown, and potentially Nantucket and Mashpee.
“Probably a good thing,” Barnstable Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said of Beaton’s request for the supplemental report from Vineyard Wind, adding that he needed to review Beaton’s certificate more closely before commenting further.
In the certificate, Beaton asked Vineyard Wind to address specific issues in the supplemental report, including project impacts, in particular, to marine resources. In a June 6 letter to Beaton, state Division of Marine Fisheries Director David Pierce faulted Vineyard Wind for insufficient detail and inadequate presentation.
“There are no details about how feedback from the fishing industry will be evaluated and applied to the project,” Pierce wrote and underlined. “There is a general lack of accountability procedures related to impacts to fisheries.”
The state Energy Facilities Siting Board will begin evidentiary hearings in September on the cable-laying proposal as well.
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