Vineyard Wind has announced that the company’s shareholders – Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables – have affirmed a commitment to deliver the proposed 800-MW offshore windfarm off the coast of Massachusetts, albeit with a delayed project schedule
Their decision follows the 9 August determination by the US Department of the Interior (DOI) to significantly delay publication of the Vineyard Wind 1 project’s final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and undertake a supplemental draft environmental impact statement. The delay follows restated concerns expressed by representatives of the fishing industry about offshore wind development, particularly regarding turbine spacing and orientation.
In public statements, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), part of the DOI, has indicated that it believes the supplemental process is needed to examine the effects from the many offshore wind projects that are expected to follow development of the Vineyard Wind project.
In a statement about the process, BOEM said, “Comments received from stakeholders and cooperating agencies requested a more robust cumulative analysis. Considering such comments and taking into account recent state offshore wind procurement announcements, BOEM is expanding its cumulative analysis of projects within its draft environmental impact statement (EIS).
“Because BOEM has determined that a greater build out of offshore wind capacity is foreseeable than was analysed in the initial draft EIS, BOEM has decided to supplement the Draft EIS and solicit comments on its revised cumulative impacts analysis.”
BOEM said there will be an opportunity to comment on the supplemental EIS and it will notify all stakeholders – including federal, state, and local agencies, elected officials, fishing communities, and the public – when the supplemental EIS is available for public comment. BOEM will also hold public meetings during the comment period. It anticipates completing the supplemental EIS late this year or early next year.
BOEM said the executive order that applies to the process requires the agency to make timely decisions with the goal of completing all federal environmental reviews and authorisation decisions for major infrastructure projects within two years of them originally being sought. It indicated that the review will include other projects in the US for which a power purchase agreement has been signed. In view of its statement about ’recent state procurement announcements’ it is anticipated that two recently announced projects in New York state – Equinor’s Empire Wind and Ørsted’s Sunrise Wind project – and the latter’s Ocean Wind project in New Jersey, could also be in line for review.
Vineyard Wind chief executive Lars Pedersen said, “We were less than four months away from launching a new industry in the US, so we thank the more than 50 US companies already awarded a contract or currently bidding on contracts, the financial institutions engaged in raising more than US$2Bn in capital, and the contractors that have joined us in planning for the first large-scale offshore windfarm in America.
“We remain committed to delivering that ambitious target and would like to thank Governor Baker, the Massachusetts legislature and our bipartisan backers in Congress led by the Bay State delegation for their collective support and courage in driving this industry forward.”
The company’s chief development officer, Erich Stephens, said, “We appreciate all the support and hard work from our community partners, from the Vineyard to Barnstable, to New Bedford, to the labour unions and environmental groups. We want to assure each of them that we remain committed to moving this project forward as quickly as circumstances allow and realising the many benefits that were so close at hand before federal regulators announced their decision.”
Publication of the FEIS was one of the final steps for Vineyard Wind 1 in the federal permitting process, representing an important milestone in a comprehensive public and regulatory review process that began in 2017, that was due to be completed by 16 August 2019. The review process has encompassed evaluation by more than 25 federal, state, and local regulatory agencies and commissions.
Vineyard Wind has not yet received any documentation as to the requirements for the expanded analysis that BOEM now says it requires. However, said the company, 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. With this development, the shareholders must revise the project as the original timeline is no longer feasible.
“Vineyard Wind will continue to engage with all relevant stakeholders, including our contractors, policy makers, and many supporters, to evaluate options for delivering the project at a later time,” the company said. “Permitting of the Vineyard Wind Connector, the cable connection from the project site to the regional grid, will continue as planned in advance of the revised project. Vineyard Wind will also use the delay to further improve the project and enhance its many benefits, to the extent feasible.”
The company highlighted that, with 3,600 jobs, a US$2.8Bn investment in new infrastructure, contracts with shipyards in the Gulf Coast and the northeast and much more hanging in the balance, Vineyard Wind represents an immediate opportunity to share the benefits of American offshore wind development with ratepayers and blue-collar workers.
“Vineyard Wind has contributed significantly to the new US offshore energy industry’s momentum that has grown in recent years to create thousands of new, well-paying jobs, and this drive will now be slowed, diluting significant opportunities,” the company said. “However, Vineyard Wind will continue to work with other US offshore wind developers to help confront the challenge to this nascent offshore energy industry, and urge adoption of a reasonable, productive regulatory approach that integrates analyses for individual projects in a deliberate and coherent fashion.”
Since filing its construction and operations plan with BOEM, Vineyard Wind’s efforts have been informed by Executive Order 13807, issued by the Trump Administration in August 2017, which created the One Federal Decision (OFD) policy. As the first privately proposed major energy infrastructure project subject to OFD, state and federal regulators worked closely with Vineyard Wind to ensure that efficient permitting of the project would feature a clear, transparent and co-ordinated timeline established by DOI to finalise environmental reviews and authorisation decisions.
With that approach, Vineyard Wind remains the most advanced offshore wind project in the US with a robust supply chain in place and ready to move forward, as well as key permits and approvals from: the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board; Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) office; Cape Cod Commission; Town of Barnstable; Martha’s Vineyard Conservation Commission; and Nantucket Conservation Commission.
In April 2019, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved long-term power purchase contracts between Vineyard Wind and Massachusetts’ electric distribution companies for the delivery of clean, affordable offshore wind energy by January 2022.
The Responsible Offshore Wind Development Alliance (RODA), which represents fishing industry associations and companies – which has expressed concern about turbine spacing and orientation in offshore wind projects on a number of occasions – said it has not taken a position to support or oppose any offshore wind energy development, but continues to seek what it described as “decisions on any new uses of the outer continental shelf (OCS)… based on a deliberative process and scientific record that fully incorporates the input of diverse fishing communities and avoids and minimises such impacts to the maximum possible extent, and where impacts cannot be avoided effective mitigation strategies are developed to achieve co-existence.”
It went on to say that, in its view, “The size, pace, and scope of proposed offshore wind energy projects on the Atlantic OCS demand that lawmakers, regulators, developers and the public all employ due caution to ensure that these developments can coexist with our traditional and historic fisheries.
“Commercial fishermen are extremely grateful to Secretary Bernhardt and his agency for taking the time to review the EIS with the elevated level of scrutiny that such a monumental decision deserves,” said RODA.
RODA has repeatedly expressed concern regarding several elements of the Vineyard Wind project. “Primarily we are concerned with its potential for setting a negative precedent if it proceeds in a way that does not minimise harm to sustainable commercial fishing practices,” it said.
“The fishing industry remains resolute that the spacing and orientation of turbines within a project area is one of the primary factors in determining what fisheries impacts will be, and thus demands the utmost diligence in consideration and analysis.
“It is furthermore unclear how Secretary Bernhardt could issue a decision on the EIS, when critical impact categories such as fishing vessel transit, disruption payments, baseline ecological information, radar interference and others are yet to be settled.
“As one of the first US large infrastructure projects to be reviewed under the OFD directive and the first large-scale offshore wind energy proposal on the OCS, we do not envy the challenges this project and its regulators face,” said RODA.
“However, the decisions made can either be a model for public-private, interagency, and cross-sector co-ordination, or result in the perpetuation of conflict between fishing communities and developers.”