BOSTON – The federal government has offered new “guidance” on the Vineyard Wind offshore wind project, Gov. Charlie Baker said, but neither the governor’s team nor project officials will talk about it.
The Baker administration chose Vineyard Wind in May 2018 for the state’s first commercial-scale offshore wind effort under a 2016 clean energy law and state officials are counting on the project to produce 800 megawatts of power and touting its importance to the state’s renewable energy portfolio. In April, state regulators approved long-term contracts between Vineyard Wind and the state’s electricity distribution companies.
But project officials announced last week that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was not ready, as Vineyard Wind expected it to be, to complete a critical final environmental impact statement.
A long delay could affect project financing, as well as plans to start construction later this year and become operational in 2021, but questions remain about the federal government’s stance on the project.
In Connecticut on Tuesday, Baker said that his team and project officials have been given a clearer understanding of the issues in play, and are working this month to address them.
“We’ve talked to the federal agencies about this,” Baker said. “They’ve made pretty clear to us that the reason they didn’t render a decision and the reason why they didn’t put a date on rendering a decision was because they wanted to continue the dialogue and the discussion with Vineyard Wind around some of the outstanding issues and they gave Vineyard Wind and us a fair amount of guidance with respect to the things we should focus on and people are going to be focusing on those between now and the end of the month.”
On Wednesday, a Baker spokesman declined to comment when asked about the nature of the project guidance.
A Vineyard Wind spokesman also declined to comment when asked what the feds have told project officials.
Baker, who says Vineyard Wind will be the largest offshore wind project in the country and will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, on Wednesday said he thought the federal government treated offshore wind projects as “standalone, fact specific issues.”
“There’s no question the fact that the Vineyard Wind one is the biggest project of its kind in U.S. history. It means it’s receiving what I would describe as a significant and probably more significant level of scrutiny, probably appropriately from the federal agencies,” Baker said.
Asked why the project expected a BOEM decision last week, a Vineyard Wind spokesman told the News Service Wednesday that since the project’s construction and operations plan was filed with BOEM in 2017, “BOEM officials have worked diligently with all stakeholders and sister government agencies to create and carefully administer a schedule for the permitting review process.”
Spokesman Scott Farmelant continued, “As a result of that process, and as indicated on various website and communications, it has been long understood that publication of the FEIS was planned for July 2019, with publication of the Record of Decision (ROD) to occur about 30 days later, that is in August 2019.”
However, a BOEM official said the agency’s review is ongoing and the agency remains within its two-year review window that ends in March 2020.
“BOEM’s environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project is ongoing,” spokesman Stephen Boutwell said in a statement when asked about the expected length of the agency’s review. “The next steps are for BOEM to publish the Final EIS followed by the Record of Decision. We don’t have a date for these publications at this time. Proposed offshore wind facilities are major infrastructure projects, and BOEM is still within the 2 year review window established under Executive Order 13807 to complete its reviews. We will post both documents on our website and will send out a notice to all our stakeholders when they are available.”
In December, under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, BOEM touted a lease auction of 390,000 acres off Massachusetts that drew winning bids from Equinor, Mayflower Wind Energy, and Vineyard Wind totaling $405 million. “BIDDING BONANZA!!,” BOEM wrote in a press release Dec. 14. “TRUMP ADMINISTRATION SMASHES RECORD FOR OFFSHORE WIND AUCTION WITH $405 MILLION IN WINNING BIDS.”
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