Developer blames Interior for offshore wind delays

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, July 19, 2019

A developer hoping to build an offshore wind farm appealed directly to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today to end delays on an environmental assessment it says would derail the project entirely if not completed by the end of the summer.

Vineyard Wind LLC plans to place 84 turbines off the coast of Massachusetts. It would be the first utility-scale wind farm to be constructed in U.S. waters, aside from a pilot project of five turbines producing wind power off Rhode Island’s coast.

But the project could be in peril.

In a statement today, Vineyard said it had alerted the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Interior secretary that the agency needs to complete the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) within four to six weeks, or the project could fall into disarray.

In early June, when BOEM said it was still working on the EIS, Vineyard Wind expressed an understanding that the complex project, a first of its kind, may require more time.

But now the company says the intricate web of obligations it must meet — from construction vessel schedules to deadlines for getting power onto the electricity grid — is otherwise at risk, said Scott Farmelant, spokesman for the Vineyard project.

The EIS is a comprehensive document forecasting the environmental impacts of a large federal project and precedes permission or denial for a project to move forward. Vineyard expected the EIS’s completion in mid-June with a final decision greenlighting the project by August, with confidence built on its preemptive work with federal agencies, local governments, labor groups and commercial fishermen.

That confidence has been dented somewhat by the delay and by another setback in Martha’s Vineyard, where the town blocked another permit. Vineyard is appealing to the state on that count.

Four to six weeks for the EIS represents Vineyard’s “best estimate” for being able to meet its obligations, said Farmelant.

Delays beyond that could send ripples through carefully laid plans to get Vineyard operational, he said.

For example, the project has a contract to bring a specialized vessel from the Gulf of Mexico as part of its construction plans. If it misses that time frame, the vessel is likely to be contracted out for years, he said.

In a statement, Vineyard noted that Interior had been clear that it did not intend to hold back the project indefinitely.

But the downwind affect of delays could be just as serious, with long-term impacts on developers, said Farmelant: “It would send a sudden and deep chill through the offshore wind industry in the U.S.”

Neither BOEM nor Interior representatives responded to requests for comment by deadline.

In a statement after BOEM’s initial delay, an agency spokesman said the project was still being reviewed but remained within the bounds set by the Trump administration to finish environmental work on the large infrastructure project.