A Trump administration official attending a conference in Boston on Friday repeatedly refused to say when the agency’s review of the Vineyard Wind project would be completed.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put the offshore wind farm on hold indefinitely in early August while it tries to gain a better understanding of the cumulative impact of the many East Coast wind farm projects currently in the pipeline. With the project in danger of being canceled if the delay lasts too long, James Bennett, the renewable energy program manager at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, gave no indication of when the agency’s review will be completed.
“It’s going to take some time, longer than we expected for this project,” said Bennett, who was asked about the agency’s timetable by Attorney General Maura Healey’s chief of staff, Mike Firestone. Bennett was at the Sheraton Boston Hotel taking part in an offshore wind panel at an eastern region meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General.
After the panel was over, Bennett again refused to elaborate. “We’re working on a schedule to complete whatever we have to do to keep the project moving forward,” he said.
Cindy Arcate, the president of Power Options, an energy-buying consortium for New England nonprofits, said she understood the desire to see how Vineyard Wind would interact with other projects down the road, particularly in terms of impact on commercial fishermen. But she said it was also risky to assume all of the proposed wind farms will get built.
“What is the harm of moving forward?” she asked.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who was a member of the panel, said the Vineyard Wind project probably needs some tweaks. But he also said the Trump administration should move the project forward expeditiously.
“It’s much easier to get a handle on cumulative impacts when you have some impacts,” he said.
There has been a lot of speculation about the Trump administration’s decision to put the brakes on the Vineyard Wind project. Some have speculated that Trump, based on some of his comments about offshore wind, is behind the delays. But some officials at Friday’s conference said privately that they think the biggest problem is high employee turnover at the agency.
The other issue that the panel discussed was whether each wind farm should build its own transmission line to shore or whether a separate company should build a main transmission line to serve all the wind farms in an area.
Lars Pedersen, the CEO of Vineyard Wind and a member of the panel, criticized calls for centralized transmission facilities, saying they would drive up costs and not reduce the number of transmission lines needed to bring power ashore.
Pedersen said the biggest transmission concern for offshore wind is not the power lines to shore but the transmission lines once the power reaches shore. One of the perceived advantages of wind farms is their close proximity to population centers, where power is needed. But Pedersen said the infrastructure needed to feed that electricity into the power grid is inadequate.
“That is an area that will be the next inhibitor to the offshore wind industry,” he said.
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