Delays can be expected in the offshore wind industry in the US as a result of Covid-19, but not all delays will be down to the pandemic
Offshore wind projects lining up on the east coast of the US will take longer to get approvals than originally expected, not because Covid-19 is making life more difficult for the federal agency assessing them, but because that agency has longstanding resource issues and because the pipeline of projects on the east coast of the US seeking approval has grown dramatically in the last two years.
Speaking at the IPF conference in the US in April 2020, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Office of Renewable Energy Programs chief Jim Bennett said the agency would meet a revised deadline for its much-anticipated review of the environmental impact statement for the delayed Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind project – the first commercial scale offshore wind project in the country.
Mr Bennett said BOEM and its employees have not been hindered by teleworking and continued to gather stakeholder input for projects via videoconferencing and written comments. But industry sources say the review of construction and operations plans (COPs) for offshore wind projects in the US – of which the number has grown significantly and is expected to continue to grow – is being held up by longstanding, pre-Covid-19 resource and staffing issues at the agency.
In his presentation at IPF, Mr Bennett said BOEM, part of the Interior Department, has seven COPs under review and anticipates receiving another three to five by the end of the year. And it is in the COP review process that, industry sources confirm, BOEM’s overall lack of capacity in its renewable energy programme office is most keenly being felt, with industry-leading developers such as Ørsted confirming that a number of its projects are facing delays.
A COP is a detailed document that contains all of the information describing facilities that commercial lease applicants, leaseholders, or operators of facilities on a commercial lease plan to construct and use for a project. It also contains details of all of their proposed construction activity, commercial operations and conceptual decommissioning plans for facilities, including onshore and support facilities. Only after BOEM has conducted a technical and environmental review of a COP will a project be able to move forward.
“It’s really a staffing issue,” said Business Network for Offshore Wind president and chief executive Liz Burdock, speaking during a 30 April webinar on the US offshore wind market hosted by Norwegian Energy Partners. “They can do stuff like the stakeholder outreach virtually, and are doing so, but it’s important to realise that delays in the COP process aren’t because of Covid-19. BOEM had pre-existing resource issues that it sought extra funding to help it address.” It sought – and got – additional funding recently to try to tackle these resource issues, but COPs are still being delayed.
Another industry source told OWJ that BOEM had been doing ‘heroic’ work’ with the huge amount of reviews it now needs to conduct on what is now around 30 GW of offshore wind being planned on the east coast of the US, but is ‘overwhelmed.’
Despite the issues BOEM faces assessing COPs, Mrs Burdock said that, with timely action by federal government on the seven pending permit applications, she is confident that 4.5 GW of offshore wind capacity can be built in the US in the next five years and 10 GW by 2030.
As highlighted recently by OWJ, offshore wind industry leader Ørsted says a number of its projects are in danger of being delayed.
“The two earliest projects in our pipeline, the 120-MW Skipjack project in Maryland and the 130-MW South Fork project in New York, are most exposed to the risk of delays,” said Ørsted. “For Skipjack it is no longer realistic to receive the Notice of Intent from BOEM in due time to meet the commissioning date in late 2022. Therefore, we now expect to commission the windfarm approximately one year later.
“For the South Fork project, which was also planned for a 2022 commissioning date, we have received the notice of intent but have not received a confirmed permit schedule from the federal government outlining when the COP will be received. This combined with impacts from the Covid-19 related shutdowns in New York, will also very likely delay South Fork to beyond 2022.
“For our largest awarded US development projects – Revolution Wind, Ocean Wind, and Sunrise Wind – with expected commissioning in 2023 and 2024, we also see increased risk of delays. We have submitted our COP applications for Ocean Wind and Revolution Wind and are awaiting BOEM to issue their notices of intent outlining the timeline for COP approval.
“For Sunrise Wind in New York, we are currently unable to progress our offshore site surveys due to Covid-19 restrictions, which adversely impacts our COP application process.
“So, for these three projects, we need more visibility on the path to COP approval before concluding whether commissioning in 2023-24 remains realistic,” the developer said.
To date, BOEM’s renewable energy programme office has completed eight competitive lease sales, issued 18 active offshore leases, approved eight site assessment plans, approved one general activities plan, has five projects under leasing consideration and has issued 10 instances of guidance on offshore wind programmes.
In addition to concerns about the slow pace of review of COPs, leading developers in the US have also expressed concern that future plans to build many more gigawatts of offshore wind capacity will not proceed in a timely manner unless the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) holds more lease auctions soon.
Taking New Jersey as an example, EnBW North America president and chief executive Bill White told the IPF Virtual Conference that a dearth of lease areas and projects able to bid into solicitations could mean 2020 could be the last opportunity the state has for a competitive auction.
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