Fed review of offshore wind projects raises concerns over delays

Source: By Mark Harrington, Newsday • Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2020

Deepwater Wind installing the first offshore wind farmDeepwater Wind installing the first offshore wind farm at Block Island on Aug. 14, 2016 Credit: Newsday/Mark Harrington

The Trump administration’s unexpected review of “potential impacts” of offshore wind-energy projects could be published early this year, but it remains unclear whether publication will clear a logjam that has stalled one of the country’s first large-scale projects, and the dozen to follow.

Some who have been expecting the federal government to finalize additional areas off Long Island to be auctioned for lease say there are concerns the delays could stall the state’s ambitious goals for offshore wind.

“I know there is concern about it in New York because the governor has announced the next gigawatt” of offshore wind to be put out to bid sometime this year, said Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, an green-energy group in East Hampton.

Last year, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced an analysis of offshore wind projects slated for construction in U.S. waters, Vineyard Wind, the first affected by it, was caught off guard. Vineyard Wind is proposing a project off the Massachusetts coast.

“We would have liked for the project to have already begun” construction, a Vineyard Wind spokesman said Wednesday. “We’re still analyzing when we can begin construction. We obviously can’t do that without the final okay” from BOEM.

Since the review began, President Donald Trump has doubled down on his criticism of wind energy, arguing that overseas manufacturing of the turbines causes “tremendous amount of fumes spewing into the air,” while they devalue proximate homes and kill birds. “They’re noisy, they kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday.”

Department of the Interior officials have said the review is aimed at making sure they get offshore wind right the first time. BOEM acting director Walter Cruickshank this month said the review will “serve as both a base and a model for future projects.”

But the review appears to have slowed BOEM’s schedule for other project milestones.

“The schedule for next steps will be posted on BOEM’s website once it’s finalized,” the agency spokesman said.

The “supplemental” review, the agency said, is “intended to help better address potential conflicts with other ocean uses, such as commercial fishing and navigation.”

Bill White, managing director of East Wind LLC., which has identified four sites for turbines off Long Island, said his hope that New York Bight sites would be auctioned off in the first quarter of 2020 has now been reset to the third or fourth quarter. “We’re looking at up to a year delay, which is disappointing,” he said.

“We’d like to compete in this area,” he said. “We’re respectfully urging the federal government to act with all due haste.”

Federal investment tax credits for new projects expired in 2020, and delays in approving project sites could limit the number of bidders, White said.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is administering the bids for state energy contracts, said it has not received an update from BOEM on the planned new lease areas, or how the additional review will impact timing of new or announced projects. New York has awarded two, for up to 1,700 megawatts.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and at this time we do not have any reason to believe that this decision will delay development of New York’s awarded offshore wind projects,” a NYSERDA spokesman said.

NYSERDA plans to issue another 1,000 megawatt offshore wind solicitation in “early 2020,” he said. In the past, NYSERDA has required that companies hold leases in order to bid.

Mark Harrington, a Newsday reporter since 1999, covers energy, wineries, Indian affairs and fisheries.