Feds Delay Environmental Permit for Vineyard Wind Project

The developers of a multibillion-dollar wind farm off the Massachusetts coast said August 12 they would continue with the project, despite the federal government delaying an environmental impact statement needed for the offshore facility.

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners of Denmark and Oregon’s Avangrid Renewables, on Monday in a statement said its shareholders had “affirmed a commitment to deliver a proposed 800-megawatt (MW) wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, albeit with a delayed project schedule.” The statement said the group would use the delay period “to further improve the project and enhance its many benefits, to the extent feasible.”

The U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) on August 9 put the project’s environmental review on hold. Vineyard Wind, sited between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, has been touted as the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm. Block Island in Rhode Island is near the nation’s first offshore wind farm, a 30-MW project brought online in May 2017 and profiled by POWER.

Federal officials on Friday said they need more time to research the wider impacts of the U.S. offshore wind industry, which is poised for rapid growth, particularly along the East Coast. Equipment makers also are announcing advancements in wind turbine technology.

Delay Impacts Financing, Construction

Vineyard Wind officials had said in July that their $2.8 billion project needed the environmental permit by the end of August, or else the development would be at risk of cancellation. The developers have said delays will impact financing and construction of the project, and disrupt the supply chain of equipment needed for the wind farm.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has considered Vineyard Wind a key component of his administration’s clean energy plan. Baker signed House Bill 4568—“An Act to Promote Energy Diversity”—in 2016, a measure with bipartisan support from state lawmakers. The bill among other things included provisions related to procuring wind energy and hydropower, improving energy storage, and creating a sustainable commercial energy program. The legislation calls for energy companies to secure long-term contracts for at least 1,600 MW of wind power by June 30, 2027. Baker at the time said his office would work with federal regulators to ensure construction of Vineyard Wind would begin this year.

The developers have said they planned to financially close on the project and begin onshore construction work this year, with the first turbine installed offshore in 2021, and the entire 84-turbine wind farm operational in 2022. The delay in issuing the environment permit could alter that timeline.

Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen in a statement Monday said, “We were less than four months away from launching a new industry in the United States, so we thank the more than 50 U.S. companies already awarded a contract or currently bidding on contracts, the financial institutions engaged in raising more than $2 billion in capital, and the first-class, global contractors that have joined us in planning for the first large-scale offshore wind farm in America. We remain committed to delivering that ambitious target.”

Governor Meets with Federal Officials

Project officials said they are working with contractors and the project funders on a new timeline, but said a new schedule has not been outlined. Baker’s office said the governor discussed the project with Vice President Mike Pence during a meeting in Nantucket on Saturday. Baker discussed the project with U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt during a July meeting in Washington, D.C.

Baker in July said, “I think all of us are anxious to see the offshore wind industry develop off the coast of the U.S. We have projects literally lining up all the way down the East Coast, and they represent not only important environmental projects, but many of them are priced at a point that makes them affordable.”

Vineyard Wind officials on Monday said they had not received any documentation detailing BOEM’s supplemental analysis of the project. They said it “is clear that the timing of such an analysis is not compatible with the original timeline that has been communicated to Vineyard Wind since March 2018, which Vineyard Wind used to build its delivery schedule.”

BOEM officials have not provided a timeline for the agency’s supplemental review and did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Federal officials earlier had said their review of the project could extend into March of next year.

Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Baker’s office, on Monday said, “The administration remains committed to advancing Massachusetts as a national leader in offshore wind energy and will keep working with Vineyard Wind and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management during the federal permitting process so this project and future procurements can deliver reliable, cost-effective clean energy that will create local jobs, stabilize the cost of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Massachusetts utilities and the governor’s office are preparing to accept bids for another 800 MW of offshore wind power later this month. It is not known whether the delay for Vineyard Wind will impact that auction.

The wind farm has met opposition from the fishing industry, which has been critical of the project’s design, saying the arrangement and spacing of the turbines could negatively impact fishermen who set traps on the sea floor and drag nets along the bottom. Vineyard Wind earlier this year created a $12.5 million trust fund that will be managed by Rhode Island fishermen. The company said the fund is “for the purpose of ensuring safe and effective fishing in and around Vineyard Wind’s project area and future wind farms generally.” The agreement also includes $4.2 million from the company to assist commercial fishing in Rhode Island.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).