BOSTON —After a “really productive and substantive” meeting with new U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration will be working with Vineyard Wind to address the federal government’s concerns with the project in line to be the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind development.
The federal government injected a level of uncertainty into Vineyard Wind, a $2.8 billion, 800-megawatt offshore wind project planned for the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, earlier this month when the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management notified project officials that the government was “not yet prepared” to issue a final environmental impact statement, which had been expected this month.
“What I was really seeking was some clarity so that we can work with Vineyard Wind and with our colleagues in the Congressional delegation and others to cure whatever the concerns are,” Baker said Monday afternoon after his meeting with Bernhardt and before returning to D.C. for more meetings. He added, “Our goal is going to be to get as much clarity as we can over the next several days and then work with Vineyard Wind to put together a cure plan, because we really want this project to happen.”
Project officials have indicated that the entire Vineyard Wind effort is at risk without a favorable federal response by the end of August. Federal officials say they are operating within a review window that extends to March 2020.
Asked if Monday’s meeting provided any insight into what the federal government’s concerns are, Baker did not specify but said they “pretty much came straight out of” the public comment period on the project.
“In particular, the ones that seemed of most interest to them, not surprisingly, are the ones that involve other federal agencies. So that’s really where our focus is going to be,” he said.
On Monday, Reuters reported that the National Marine Fisheries Service “triggered the delays by declining to sign off on the project’s design, as proposed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management” and that a regional director for the agency “said his agency could not support the environmental permit for Vineyard Wind because the project failed to fully address the concerns of the fishing industry.”
When asked directly on Monday whether the concerns stem from Vineyard Wind’s impact on the fishing industry, Baker said, “I would describe it as a series of issues that involve a number of federal agencies.”
Pressed by a reporter as to why he would not say fishing was among the concerns, Baker responded: “Can you read the comments? They’re not that hard to find. Certainly, there were issues that were raised by fishing. There were issues that were raised by a number of other federal agencies as well.”
At a forum in March, Baker talked about the importance of states and offshore wind developers forging relationships with commercial fishing organizations, recreational boating groups and other stakeholders to more smoothly address concerns they might have with the wind developments.
“If you really do deal with some of the storage opportunities that are attached to this, it could become much more significant and much more important than I think anybody ever imagined or appreciated when these conversations began four, five, six, seven years ago,” Baker said. “But we also need to take very seriously the issues related to the fishing community, the recreational community and the environmental issues that are associated with offshore wind as well.”
Vineyard Wind had been planning to financially close on its project and begin on-shore construction work this year, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021 and have the 84-turbine wind farm operational in 2022. The project is backed by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables.
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