In a decision that could derail Vineyard Wind, federal regulators on Friday put their review of the project on hold temporarily while they seek to better understand the cumulative impact of the many wind farm projects being proposed along the eastern seaboard.
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a statement saying the agency is expanding its draft environmental impact statement on the Vineyard Wind project to include a cumulative analysis of wind farm projects on the drawing board.
“Because BOEM has determined that a greater build out of offshore wind capacity is reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed in the initial draft EIS, BOEM has decided to supplement the draft EIS and solicit comments on its revised cumulative impacts analysis,” the agency said. The statement said the decision was prompted by comments from stakeholders and cooperating agencies requesting “a more robust cumulative analysis.”
Bureau officials gave no timetable for their additional review, but sources say the agency has said it could take six to eight weeks. Industry officials say any final decision on Vineyard Wind’s environmental impact statement could take longer. Either timetable could be fatal for Vineyard Wind, which has said it needed approval of its environmental impact statement by the end of the month.
“The federal government’s decision to further delay the approval of the FEIS [final environmental impact statement] for the Vineyard Wind 1 project comes as a surprise and disappointment,” the wind farm developer said in a statement. “To be clear, the Vineyard Wind 1 project remains viable and continues to move forward. While we appreciate that the discussion on cumulative impacts is driven by rapid growth of the industry beyond our project, we urged the federal government to complete the review of Vineyard Wind 1 as quickly as possible.”
The new delay is likely to throw off Vineyard Wind’s aggressive construction timetable, which called for construction to begin by the end of this year and be completed in 2021.
In a statement issued on July 18, after an initial delay by federal regulators, Vineyard Wind said it communicated to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that, “for a variety of reasons, it would be very challenging to move forward the Vineyard Wind 1 project in its current configuration if the final EIS is not issued within, approximately, the next four to six weeks.”
It’s unclear if the project could move forward in a different configuration. Vineyard Wind reportedly is huddling with its suppliers, financiers, and state officials to explore its options.
Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker, who had promised a “cure plan” for any concerns about Vineyard Wind on July 29, called the Friday announcement regarding Vineyard Wind “a step in the wrong direction.” Moss said the governor urges the federal government to move expeditiously.
Attorney General Maura Healey issued a statement calling the decision by the Department of Interior to do more study “extremely disappointing to Massachusetts ratepayers and those working to advance the offshore wind industry.” She said her office was reviewing options to ensure the project moves forward.
US Rep. Joe Kennedy III faulted the Trump administration for slowing the nation’s development of an offshore wind industry. “When it comes to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Trump Administration has cut every corner and moved through the environmental review period at record speed,” he said. ” But when it comes to the nation’s first major offshore wind project – which has gone through years of extensive study, public comment, and mitigation plans for impacted communities – they are trying to delay it to death. Their double standard on energy infrastructure is putting jobs, manufacturing, and economic activity at risk, from southeastern New England to Texas to Louisiana.”
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