Vineyard Wind Project Uncertain Following Latest Move by Feds
MARTHA’S VINEYARD — The first ever commercial-scale offshore wind project in the United States is being set back.
Federal officials are not ready to issue an approval for the Vineyard Wind offshore power project, which may affect the project's timeline.
Project officials late Wednesday announced that they had been informed by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) that "they are not yet prepared to issue" the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the 800-megawatt project.
The schedule had called for a decision on the EIS by Friday, July 12. Project officials have long been planning to start construction on the 84-turbine installation in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard by the end of 2019 and become operational in 2021.
Asked whether federal officials had offered a new timeline for a decision on the EIS, a project official declined to comment.
"We understand that, as the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., the Vineyard Wind project will undergo extraordinary review before receiving approvals," Vineyard Wind said in a statement on its website.
"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 United States' first utility-scale wind farm and its essential benefits – an abundant supply of cost-effective clean energy combined with enormous economic and job-creation opportunities."
The Interior Department in April got a new secretary, David Bernhardt of Virginia, who had served in leadership roles at the department for nearly a decade.
The Washington Post in April described Bernhardt as a former oil and gas industry lobbyist and said his 56-41 Senate confirmation vote reflected divisions over his appointment and potential conflicts of interest.
According to Vineyard Wind, 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." The statement "provides a baseline for understanding potential consequences of the proposed project, identifies positive and negative effects for the environment, and offers proposed mitigation solutions."
Within Massachusetts, the project has received permits or approvals from the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act office, Cape Cod Commission, Barnstable Conservation Commission, Martha's Vineyard Conservation Commission, and the Nantucket Conservation Commission. In April, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved long-term power purchase contracts between Vineyard Wind and electric distribution companies for the delivery of offshore wind energy.
Governor Charlie Baker has become a vocal booster of the offshore wind industry and his administration is forcing ahead with a second, 800-megawatt procurement.
The Massachusetts Legislature this week has been advancing a bill authorizing an easement to help Vineyard Wind bring its electricity to the mainland and run it through a high voltage electric cable to a substation in Barnstable.
But it's not all smooth sailing for the project, which Vineyard Wind estimates will reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million tons per year, or the equivalent of removing 325,000 cars from state roads.
The Martha's Vineyard Times reported Wednesday that Edgartown Conservation Commission voted 5-1 to deny a Vineyard Wind permit for 400-megawatt export cables that would pass through the Muskeget Channel.
And the Cape Cod Times reported Tuesday that a group in Nantucket wants to delay project permitting, citing concerns about impacts on endangered Northern Atlantic right whales.
NOAA Fisheries, a federal agency, last week called for "immediate action" to save the endangered whales, citing six recent deaths and saying that "with fewer than 95 breeding females left, protecting every individual is a top priority." The agency said cited vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear as "the two greatest threats to these whales" and pointed out that their habitat "overlaps with commercially important areas."