A federal regulator speaking at a conference in Boston on Tuesday posted a slide suggesting Vineyard Wind would be operational in 2023, but the company itself is not saying whether its wind farm will be generating electricity by then.
Vineyward Wind originally hoped to begin construction in 2019 and have half the 800 megawatt wind farm up and running by January 15, 2022, and the remaining half a year later. That timetable was dashed when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put the project on hold in August 2019 to allow for a broader review of the cumulative impact of the many wind farms being proposed along the East Coast. Last week, the federal agency said its review of Vineyard Wind would be completed this December.
Jim Bennett, the program manager of the renewable energy program at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, gave a slide presentation at a wind energy conference sponsored by the University of Delaware that listed 2023 as the year when Vineyard Wind would be operational. He then quickly added: “Please don’t take these dates as absolutes. They’re estimates based on our regulatory programs.”
The timing issue is significant for the nation’s first large-scale wind farm. Last year, when the project was put on hold, Vineyard Wind said it needed a quick resolution of the federal environmental review or the project might collapse. Since then, the company has indicated its construction plans are moving forward, but officials have declined to comment on how they intend to overcome the many hurdles caused by the regulatory delay.
For example, the power purchase agreements Vineyard Wind signed with the state’s three utilities included project milestones the company is now unlikely to meet. The pricing of Vineyard Wind’s electricity is heavily reliant on federal investment tax credits that are expiring. And Vineyard Wind is also due to receive payments for making its power available to the regional power grid starting in June 2022, a timetable it is now unlikely to meet.
Another uncertainty for Vineyard Wind is what the federal environmental review will conclude. The wind farm developer has proposed a configuration for the turbine layout that is opposed by some fishing groups. If the approach favored by fishing groups prevails, and wider navigation lanes through the turbine area are required by the federal government, that would reduce the number of turbines that could be built and cut into the project’s economic viability.
Michael Clayton, Vineyard Wind’s permitting and compliance manager, who participated in a panel at the conference, declined comment.
Vineyard Wind spokesman Brendan Moss issued a statement on Tuesday saying the company is in regular contact with the state’s utilities about the project delay and also working with the US Treasury Department to preserve the project’s investment tax credit eligibility. He declined to comment on the firm’s agreement with the regional power grid, referring to a statement issued last week by Lars Pedersen, the CEO of Vineyard Wind.
“While we need to analyze what a longer permitting timeline will mean for beginning construction, commercial operation in 2022 is no longer expected,” Pedersen said. “We look forward to the clarity that will come with a final environmental impact statement so that Vineyard Wind can deliver this project to Massachusetts and kick off the new US offshore energy industry.”