What may become the nation’s first industrial-scale wind farm is back on track.
Vineyard Wind Chief Executive Officer Lars Pedersen said Monday the company notified the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that it had no changes to its construction and operations plan.
Pedersen said the federal agency in charge of most federal permits for offshore wind projects could pick up the process where it left off when his company withdrew its plan last month. At the time, Vineyard Wind said it needed to evaluate whether it needed to change anything after it switched to more powerful and efficient turbines.
“All the data is there to have BOEM make a decision,” Pedersen said, although the company has not heard from the federal agency on what it plans to do.
In a statement, Vineyard Wind said its wind farm planned for 15 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard would supply electricity to the equivalent of 400,000 homes and businesses and create 3,600 full-time jobs, while reducing carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million tons per year.
Before the company decided to withdraw its operations plan, the project was delayed by at least a year by the bureau, which appeared to be on the cusp of approving the project. The bureau had already released the draft of an environmental impact statement, reviewed public comment and seemed about to issue a final draft of the statement when it suddenly decided to require a new analysis of the potential cumulative effects on the fishing industry of proposed wind farms along the Atlantic coast. A new analysis of safety concerns also was required.
“The delay in 2019 had a huge impact,” Pedersen said. Vessels, raw materials and supply chain development were all put on hold.
After Vineyard Wind withdrew its operations plan, the bureau notice in the Dec. 16 Federal Register said the process of preparing an environmental impact statement for the project had been “terminated.” That caused many to think the project itself was shelved.
But Pedersen downplayed that, saying it was just a notice to the public that the agency had halted its review.
Vineyard Wind had hoped to be operational in 2022, but Pedersen now says, barring any major delays in the permitting process, onshore construction will start this year, with offshore construction in 2022 and power to the grid late in 2023.
The company has power purchase agreements with electric utility companies in Massachusetts for 800 megawatts of power. Vineyard Wind anticipates, short of a permitting delay of nine months or more, that it should make the deadline for the first year of power generation in 2023.
Given technological developments during the three-year permitting process, Vineyard Wind upgraded from 9.5-megawatt turbines to more powerful turbines made by General Electric that can each generate 13 megawatts. Because it has contracted for 800 megawatts of power, the number of turbines was cut from 108 to 62.
Analysis by the U.S. Coast Guard and wind farm developers led to the development of a universal layout that incorporated one nautical mile spacing between each turbine to allow for safe navigation, fishing operations and search and rescue. Despite fewer turbines in the new plan, that layout and separation distance remain in effect, but will now require a smaller footprint within the lease area.
Calling it a “nuanced picture of conflict” between the fishing and wind farm industries, Pedersen said he was confident the two could coexist.
Many pointed a finger at the Trump administration, saying its antipathy for renewable energy in general, and offshore wind specifically, helped cause the delays experienced by the Vineyard Wind project.
“We have been working with the Trump administration and we are looking forward to working with the Biden administration,” Pedersen said. “We have heard of (the Biden administration) being more in favor (of offshore wind projects), particularly for the East Coast.”
Over the next three decades, Massachusetts intends to develop 15 gigawatts of offshore wind power, or the equivalent of 19 Vineyard Wind wind farms. A more efficient permitting process would have to be in place to make that goal a reality, and Pedersen said he hoped that a lot of the analysis that went into getting his company’s project off the ground could be used to simplify the process.
With more projects soon to enter the permitting phase, he said hoped the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would receive more staff to deal with the increased workload.
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