While local community members still need to comb through the details, a federal analysis of Vineyard Wind’s $2 billion construction and operations plans that is to be officially released in draft form on Friday is expected to keep the project moving forward.
“The company remains squarely on track to place equipment orders and start construction in 2019,” said Erich Stephens, Vineyard Wind’ chief development officer.
The company needs to begin construction of its 800-megawatt wind farm next year because 2019 is the final year of a federal investment tax credit program that was a component in the company’s successful bid to sell electricity to three electricity distributors in Massachusetts.
By remaining on schedule, the company can maximize the value of the tax credit, “creating $1.4 billion in savings for the Commonwealth over the life of the project,” Stephens said.
Top executives with Vineyard Wind expressed optimism in late September about completion dates for the offshore project after a Bank of America Merrill Lynch financial report indicated timely permitting by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In late September, a spokeswoman for the federal agency said Vineyard Wind’s draft environmental impact statement would be issued for public comment by December, and that a final decision on the company’s construction and operations plan is expected next summer.
Stephens said he doesn’t know where the first construction will occur but he said most likely onshore.
Available online before Friday’s official release, the draft report is a 500-page analysis of the potential environmental, social, economic, historic, and cultural effects that could come from the construction, operation, maintenance and ultimate decommissioning of the offshore wind energy facility 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is asking for public comment on the draft through Jan. 21, and will hold five public meetings prior to that date in Hyannis, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, New Bedford and Narragansett, Rhode Island. The New Bedford meeting is from 5 to 8 p.m. Jan. 8 at the Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill.
The draft report lays out a grid of negligible, minor, moderate and major negative and positive effects of the proposed project and alternatives, first described in raw form without any mitigation measures that Vineyard Wind is also proposing. The major negative effects in the report are for commercial fishing and for-hire recreational fishing, with a special mention of fishermen in Lewis Bay in West Yarmouth, where the cable from the project was initially expected to make landfall. In the report, the Lewis Bay fishermen are described as vulnerable in both the short- and long-term due to lower incomes and subsistence fishing, where a disruption of dredging of the bay or blocking of access could put them out of business.
Although a final decision by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board is still due in April, Vineyard Wind has said it intends now to land its high-voltage cable at Covell Beach in Barnstable, and then lay underground cable along the streets to a new substation off Independence Drive. From there the company would connect to an Eversource substation and the regional electricity grid. A major concern in the $16 million agreement the company signed with the town of Barnstable is the possible spill of transformer fluids at the substation and any resulting leaks into public drinking water wells.
When reached by phone on Tuesday, West Yarmouth oyster farmer Edmund Janiunas said he was busy putting his oysters to bed for the winter. He hadn’t had time to look at the draft report but he said others in town who had opposed the Lewis Bay cable landing, as he had, were likely going over it closely.
“If we haven’t heard of anything yet then there probably is nothing major of note, other than everything is going in the right direction,” Janiunas said.
Generally, in the draft report’s grid of unmitigated effects, water quality impacts are described as minor, and largely attributed to vessel discharges and sediment suspension, with a net benefit identified over the life of the project.
Both Barnstable Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin and Town Council member Britt Beedenbender said Tuesday they hadn’t yet had a chance to look at the draft report. Both said they intend to shortly.
“There’s nothing that I’m particularly concerned about, certainly not with Covells Beach,” said Beedenbender, whose district includes the beach itself. “We should all be concerned about the substation.”
Other commercial fishermen, in Rhode Island, have raised concerns that still need to be addressed about the layout of Vineyard Wind’s turbines at the federal lease area and their spacing. The company has been given a reprieve through Jan. 28 to resolve the issues, according to documentation of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. Vineyard Wind needs a certification from the council to move ahead with its plans.
“We have not received the draft (environmental impact statement) from Vineyard Wind,” Laura Dwyer, an information officer with the council, wrote in an email.
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