BOSTON – The project that has been eyed as the first utility-scale offshore wind development in the country was dealt a blow from the federal government Tuesday and Vineyard Wind no longer expects that its 800-megawatt project, chosen to deliver Massachusetts clean, renewable power, will become operational by 2022.
The Trump administration, which lawmakers and some in the energy world have accused of being prejudiced against wind developments, on Tuesday announced a new – and longer-than-anticipated – timeline for the ongoing federal review of the Vineyard Wind project and the offshore wind sector generally. The new timeline, the developer said, puts another planned milestone out of reach.
“We have received updated information from the Department of Interior that indicates the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Vineyard Wind I project will be published later than what was previously anticipated,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a statement. “While we need to analyze what a longer permitting timeline will mean for beginning construction, commercial operation in 2022 is no longer expected. We look forward to the clarity that will come with a final EIS so that Vineyard Wind can deliver this project to Massachusetts and kick off the new US offshore energy industry.”
The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) sent shockwaves through the industry in August with its plan to hold off on developing the final environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind – the Massachusetts-contracted project that has been in line to be the first major offshore wind farm in the country – while it studies the wider impacts of a sector that is hoping to ramp up in Northeast and mid-Atlantic waters also used by the fishing sector.
On Tuesday, BOEM published a new “one federal decision permitting timeline,” which envisions the issuance of a decision for permit approval by Dec. 18, 2020. Before the feds launched the broad review of wind projects, a decision on permit approval had been expected by Aug. 16, 2019.
Vineyard Wind had originally planned to financially close on its project and begin on-shore construction work in 2019, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021 and have the 84-turbine wind farm generating electricity in 2022.
Officials from Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables seeking to build an 84-turbine wind farm 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, had said in July that the entire project would be at risk if the federal government did not issue the project’s final environmental impact statement by the end of August. Since then, the company affirmed its commitment to the project “albeit with a delayed project schedule.”
Vineyard Wind officials said Tuesday the company remains committed to being the first large-scale offshore wind project in the country and is in close contact with the utility companies it is under contract with about any impacts the federal review could have on the project.
The company has also been communicating with the U.S. Department of the Treasury to discuss the possibility of preserving eligibility for a key tax credit for Vineyard Wind and any other project that is similarly held up due to unforeseen regulatory actions.
Because of its standing as the project most likely to be the first major wind farm off the American coast, and therefore as the project most impacted by the current federal review, national wind energy groups were quick to react Tuesday to the new Vineyard Wind timeline.
The National Ocean Industries Association called the updated timeline “disappointing.”
“Regulatory delays – especially of a new industry – could open the door to unexpected and unintended bottlenecks and holdups. However, the complexity of what Interior is doing should not be forgotten. It is critically important that Interior issue a robust Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that can withstand the automatic litigation that could be filed in an attempt to block the ascendant offshore wind industry,” association president Erik Milito said. “The Vineyard Wind project is a win for the American people, the energy industry and the environment. We are optimistic that the expanded timeline for the project will ultimately clear the way for a robust U.S. offshore wind industry.”
Another national wind industry organization said Tuesday that the announcement of a schedule for the Vineyard Wind project gives the industry “important clarity” but urged the federal government not to further delay the project.
“Moving forward, it’s critical Interior meet or accelerate the announced schedule, expedite the review for other offshore wind projects under development, and move forward with auctions for new wind energy lease areas, which will create thousands of new jobs and economic opportunities nationwide,” Laura Morton, the senior director of offshore policy and regulatory affairs for the American Wind Energy Association, said.
Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Katie Theoharides said Tuesday – before the new BOEM timeline was published – that the Baker administration looks “forward to moving forward with the project to provide the environmental, energy and economic benefits to the commonwealth.” She said the administration, which has made securing clean power generation a key part of its agenda, appreciates the federal government’s review.
“I think the federal government is just trying to make their environmental review consistent with the scale of offshore wind that is now developing off our coast and making sure it’s being done in a responsible way that addresses all users of the ocean resource,” she said. The secretary added, “the delay you’re seeing at the federal level is really due to the fact that when this project came in it was by itself in terms of offshore wind being developed and now the industry has really expanded.”
Theoharides would not take the bait when she was asked about complaints from others that President Donald Trump and his administration have something against wind projects – U.S. Rep. Bill Keating has referenced a “baseless personal vendetta President Trump has taken against wind farms throughout his career” – but Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Patrick Woodcock said the fact that Mayflower Wind is moving ahead with the state’s second contracted offshore wind development shows that the industry is not overly constrained by this White House.
“This bid by a sophisticated energy company was a bid and a vote of confidence in the long-term industry and the offshore wind regulatory regime,” he said. “This company certainly saw the regulatory situation and moved forward with a very competitive bid on a schedule that reflects flexibility for them to move forward.”
Though the new BOEM timeline may lead to more headaches for Vineyard Wind, the secretary said she is confident that the offshore wind industry will continue to grow in Massachusetts and regionally.
“There certainly has not been a chilling effect on the industry here,” Theoharides said. “We saw very competitive bids come in for this solicitation. I think other states are seeing the same thing and Vineyard Wind has doubled down in Connecticut now at this point. There’s a continued growth and momentum in the industry.”
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