CENTERVILLE – Vineyard Wind is remaining outwardly resolute after two regulatory setbacks Wednesday involving its planned $2 billion offshore wind farm and the two electricity transmission cables that are to land at a beach in Centerville.
In a 5-1 vote, the Edgartown Conservation Commission denied the company’s notice of intent for the cable-laying. As planned, the cables are to be placed on the ocean floor starting from the wind farm about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and then travel northward between the Vineyard and Nantucket to reach William H. Covell Memorial Beach. The cables would pass about a mile east of Edgartown, on the Vineyard, in Muskeget Channel.
The company’s notice of intent under the state Wetlands Protection Act is part of the regulatory procedures to obtain a mandatory order of conditions for the offshore cable-laying. In May, the Barnstable Conservation Commission voted 5-1, with conditions, to approve the company’s notice-of-intent application for the cable-laying on- and offshore.
Once the cables reach Covell Beach, they will be buried under roads for 5 miles to a new substation off Independence Way. From the substation, the company intends to connect to an Eversource substation next door, leading to the introduction of wind-powered electricity into the regional grid.
The company has the option to appeal the Edgartown decision to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
At the Edgartown commission’s public hearing June 27, commercial fishermen raised doubts about the electromagnetic fields of the cables, whether the cables could remain covered in sand because of the currents, how the cables would be repaired, whether installation would interfere with fish being able to communicate, and other issues.
“The Commission found that the applicant, Vineyard Wind, did not submit sufficient information to protect against long-term and short-term adverse effects on the resource area, land under the ocean,” according to a statement Thursday from the commission. “This area is critical for the protection of marine fisheries, land containing shellfish, storm damage prevention, flood control and protection of wildlife habitat. The Commission determined that the predictions offered by Vineyard Wind were not sufficient to allow the alteration of the resources of Muskeget Channel at this time.”
Lacking from the company’s application was a decommissioning plan for the cables; plans for further development of additional leases for wind power; and protocol for the post-construction studies to determine if the benthic habitat and other marine resources have adequately recovered, the commission said in the statement. The commission’s written findings will be issued by July 18.
“Vineyard Wind appreciates the efforts of the Edgartown Conservation Commission and local stakeholders for its very detailed project review process,” the company said in a statement issued Wednesday night. No further comment came from the company’s two spokesmen Thursday.
On Wednesday, the company also announced the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was still not prepared to issue the final environmental impact statement for construction and operation of the 800-megawatt wind farm. The federal agency initially was expected to issue the final statement June 7 but said then that another month was needed to study the public comments on the draft version.
“We understand that, as the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., the Vineyard Wind project will undergo extraordinary review before receiving approvals,” the company said in a statement. “As with any project of this scale and complexity, changes to the schedule are anticipated.”
The company remains “resolutely committed” to working with the bureau to deliver “an abundant supply of cost-effective clean energy combined with enormous economic and job-creation opportunities,” the statement says.
The federal agency, which was revising its timeline Thursday, is the lead government group under a presidential executive order from 2017 that requires timely decisions on major infrastructure projects, where environmental reviews and authorization decisions are to be completed in two years. The project began just before January 2018.
“BOEM continues to work on evaluating the potential environmental impacts of this proposed project,” agency spokesman Stephen Boutwell said Thursday. “Proposed offshore wind facilities are major infrastructure projects, and BOEM is still within the two-year review window.”
Vineyard Wind, though, intends to start its project by the end of the year to take advantage of cost-saving federal investment tax credits that are on the verge of expiring. Vineyard Wind won the bid in May 2018 to sell 800 megawatts of power to three Massachusetts electricity distributors by offering a competitive price. That price took into account both the federal investment tax credits and a long-term power purchase agreement, said Lars Pedersen, the company’s chief executive.
On Thursday, beachgoers at Covell Beach were startled to see what looked like a permanent platform out in the water, and thought perhaps the wind farm project had begun. But Barnstable Harbormaster Daniel Horn said Vineyard Wind is collecting sediment samples and will remove the equipment by July 12, assuming good weather conditions, according to the mariner advisory the harbormaster’s office received.
“I have no concern with the wind farm, or with the cable coming in,” West Hyannisport resident Michael Baglino said. “I was just curious about it. Other people were asking the same question. No one seemed to know anything about it.”