Vineyard Wind has withdrawn its construction and operation plans from the federal permitting process, suddenly throwing the future into limbo for the international consortium that has been at the front of the pack in the race to build offshore wind farms off the American eastern seaboard.
The first announcement that Vineyard Wind would withdraw from federal review was buried in a public statement that went out Dec. 1 about the company’s selection of General Electric’s Haliade-X as its preferred wind turbine generator model.
In followup statements Monday, both Vineyard Wind and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal agency responsible for reviewing the project, confirmed the withdrawal.
Vineyard Wind is a joint wind energy venture between Copenhagen Infrastructure Projects and Avangrid Renewables. The $2.8 billion plan to build a 108-turbine, 800-megawatt wind farm in federal waters about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard has been working its way through the dense federal permitting process for the past three years.
The process had seen repeated delays and slowdowns, but had nearly reached the finish line late last month, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) expected to release a final environmental impact statement by Jan. 15, five days before President Trump leaves office.
Now Vineyard Wind appears to be betting on the Biden administration for a fresh start.
“While the decision to pause the ongoing process was difficult, taking this step now avoids potentially more federal delays and we are convinced it will provide the shortest overall timeline for delivering the project as planned,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen in a followup statement Monday. “We intend to restart the BOEM process from where we left off as soon as we complete the final review.”
On Monday, a spokesman for BOEM confirmed in an email to the Gazette that the agency had received a letter from Vineyard Wind withdrawing its proposal, effectively halting the project’s years-long review process and leaving the overall status of the development unclear.
“BOEM is not actively reviewing Vineyard Wind’s application right now,” the statement said. “Vineyard Wind is welcome to submit a new construction and operations plan, at which time BOEM will begin an appropriate environmental and technical review.”
The spokesman did not clarify whether the agency intended to entirely restart the project’s permitting if or when Vineyard Wind submits a new project plan – which could lead to years-long delays.
A decision to restart the project’s federal permitting would be recorded by a notice in the Federal Register.
The project has faced myriad federal and local permitting hurdles. A denial from the Edgartown conservation commission for the undersea connector cables after dozens of Island fishermen spoke against the proposal at meetings last summer was later reversed. Federal permitting has proven more challenging, with many stopping points in an environmental impact review that was expected to be completed by last summer. One of several setbacks came when BOEM said it wanted to examine more closely the entire scheme for wind farms off the coast of the U.S.
Deepwater ocean blocks have been going up for auction at a steady clip in the past three years. To date Vineyard Wind has secured two lease blocks.
In the statement Monday, Mr. Pedersen described the federal review process as “extremely rigorous” and said Vineyard Wind plans to complete its financial investments in the second half of 2021. The company still hopes to have the project online by 2023, he said.
“A short delay now still allows us to deliver the project on the appropriate timeline, with the final investment decision in mid-2021 and power coming onto the grid in 2023,” the statement said. “We continue to progress on our due diligence efforts and we intend to notify the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in several weeks when it can resume and complete its review of the COP.”
But the status of that review – and the country’s first industrial-scale offshore wind development – remains unclear, according to the statement from BOEM.
“Because the construction and operations plan has been withdrawn from review, there is no longer a proposal for a major federal action awaiting technical and environmental review, nor is there a decision pending before BOEM,” the agency said.
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