America’s first commercial-scale offshore windfarm has been hit by two permitting problems that could, at the very least, slow down plans to start construction later this year.
Earlier this year, Avangrid Renewables, one of two companies behind Vineyard Wind, said it was exploring options to complete the project ahead of schedule, and Avangrid chief executive James Torgerson told investors that the company expected to begin construction in late 2019 and was assessing whether it might be possible to complete both 400-MW tranches of the 800-MW project by 2021. The company has also begun awarding conditional contracts for the project, for key structures such as the monopile foundations and offshore substation.
However, the timescale for the project could now have to be adjusted after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said it was not ready to issue a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project and a regional conservation commission in Edgartown voted to deny the company a permit for cables that would pass through the Muskeget Channel.
In a statement, Vineyard Wind said, “We understand that, as the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the US, the Vineyard Wind project will undergo extraordinary review before receiving approvals.
“As with any project of this scale and complexity, changes to the schedule are anticipated. Vineyard Wind remains resolutely committed to working with BOEM to deliver the first utility-scale offshore windfarm in the US and its benefits – an abundant supply of cost-effective clean energy combined with enormous economic and job-creation opportunities.”
The EIS is a mandatory document that sets forth the impact of a proposed project on its surrounding environment and informs the work and decisions of policymakers and stakeholders. For the Vineyard Wind project, the EIS is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and requires advanced identification and disclosure of harm. It provides a baseline for understanding potential consequences of the proposed project, identifies positive and negative effects for the environment, and offers proposed mitigation solutions.
The EIS is part of Vineyard Wind’s public and regulatory review process that involves evaluation by more than 25 federal, state, and local regulatory bodies, including BOEM, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Cape Cod Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and local conservation commissions.
To date, Vineyard Wind has received permits or approvals from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, an independent state board responsible for review of proposed large energy facilities, Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office, Cape Cod Commission, Barnstable Conservation Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Conservation Commission, and Nantucket Conservation Commission.
In April, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved long-term power purchase contracts between Vineyard Wind and Massachusetts’ electric distribution companies for the green electricity from the windfarm. Vineyard Wind has also entered into a Host Community Agreement with the Town of Barnstable, and a Community Benefits Agreement with the non-profit energy co-operative Vineyard Power, which serves Martha’s Vineyard. Fishing representatives for the project include the New Bedford Port Authority, the Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association, and the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust.
The second setback for the project came when the Edgartown conservation commission voted 5-1 against agreeing a permit for the export cable. The cables had already been approved by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, but concerns raised by the fishing community in Edgartown led to the permit being denied.
In a statement issued to local news media after the vote, the Edgartown commission said, “After a lengthy hearing and review process, the commission voted to deny the application under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.
“The commission found that the applicant… did not submit sufficient information to protect against long-term and short-term adverse effects on the resource area. This area is critical for the protection of marine fisheries, land containing shellfish, storm damage prevention, flood control and protection of wildlife habitat. The Commission determined that the predictions offered by Vineyard Wind were not sufficient to allow the alteration of the resources of Muskeget channel at this time.”
The Commissioners will issue a written decision by 18 July and acknowledged that their decision had been “a very difficult one.” Local news sources said Vineyard Wind may decide to appeal the decision to the DEP.