After more than three years of review and public comment, it’s looking like the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm will soon have all the permits it needs to begin construction.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Monday released an environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind with a favorable review. Once the environmental review is published in the Federal Register, the bureau has 30 days to issue its final decision, which could clear the way for construction to begin.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled,” said Laura Morton, senior director for policy and regulatory affairs for offshore wind at the American Clean Power Association.
Biden administration backs wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard
After more than a year’s delay and inaction on Vineyard Wind’s environmental impact statement under former President Donald Trump, Morton thinks BOEM’s action demonstrates the Biden administration’s prioritization of offshore wind as a key component of a renewable energy strategy. The administration’s goal is to decarbonize the U.S. energy sector by 2035 and get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“This is a very significant milestone for offshore wind in New England,” Priscilla Brooks, the Conservation Law Foundation director of ocean conservation, said. “We are hopeful … that (federal agencies such as NOAA and BOEM) will get the resources they need to advance this source of clean, renewable energy as expeditiously as possible while ensuring it is done right,” by minimizing the harm to marine life and the marine environment.
Morton anticipates the BOEM review will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, leading to final approval by early April.
“We look forward to reaching the final step in the federal permitting process and being able to launch an industry that has such tremendous potential,” Lars Pedersen, Vineyard Wind CEO, said in a press release Monday.
Vineyard Wind construction set to begin this year
The environmental impact statement set construction to begin this year, with project completion and energy generation by 2024. The Vineyard Wind site is located 14 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and will generate 800 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply the equivalent of 400,000 homes and businesses.
The project is expected to create 3,600 full-time jobs and reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million tons per year, according to a company statement.
“Vineyard Wind represents the first, large off-shore wind project in the United States, and Southeastern Massachusetts has been laying the groundwork for years to lead on offshore wind in the same way our region has lead for decades on marine research,” U.S. Representative William Keating said in a statement. “The release of this environmental review not only represents a leap forward for the Vineyard Wind project itself, but also a clear message for the stakeholders who have invested so much to make sure that the offshore wind industry has the educated workforce and facilities required to thrive here in Massachusetts.”
Larger turbines allowed the company to reduce the number of turbines from 108 in the original plan to 57. The company is on track to produce power by 2023, a spokesman said.
“This project is big for the commonwealth and our clean energy goals, but it’s also big for the region and the country,” Kathleen Theoharides, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and the Environment, said. Because Vineyard Wind’s proposal delivered large amounts of clean energy at a competitive price, it launched the offshore wind industry in the U.S., Theoharides said.
Thirteen wind farm projects, from South Carolina to Cape Cod, are already in the federal permitting pipeline, Morton said. She estimated that five of those wind farms had submitted construction and operations plans to BOEM, one of the final steps in the process.
Clean energy goals
The state needs Vineyard Wind to be permitted in order to take important steps toward Massachusetts’ clean energy goals, Theoharides said, including 15 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2050. The state’s net-zero plan relies on having both Vineyard Wind and nearby Mayflower Wind online by 2030, along with hydropower, to reach a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Theoharides said that a gigawatt of clean energy has to come online every year after 2030 to meet the 2050 net-zero goal.
“We’re getting to a point where having a clear process for permitting and construction is really important for hitting those targets,” she said.
Pathfinding, showing what it takes to get the necessary permits and to accommodate other user groups and environmental concerns, may be the biggest benefit of Vineyard Wind to the offshore wind industry, experts said.
“They really broke new ground, and every project that follows will benefit from the work Vineyard Wind and the (state and federal) agencies did on this project,” Brooks said.