First offshore wind farm seeks second chance

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, January 25, 2021

Vineyard Wind LLC, the renewable power company proposing America’s first large offshore wind farm, is hoping to restart its stalled permit request that led to the Trump administration terminating the project proposal last month.

The company, a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, said yesterday it has asked the Interior Department to take up its application to raise an 800-megawatt wind installation off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, with hopes of clearing federal regulatory hurdles by the middle of the year.

Vineyard’s first offshore wind project is the closest to clearing federal approval in the U.S., where a host of power firms and oil and gas companies aim to raise upward of 2,000 turbines within a decade.

State climate commitments to buy offshore wind power and falling development costs as technology improves are driving an anticipated boom for the U.S. offshore wind sector. Industry also expects to be buoyed by the new Democratic White House and Democrat-led Congress.

Despite friction with the Trump administration, Vineyard denied it was holding out for its proposal to be considered by President Biden’s administration last month, when it requested a temporary withdrawal of its construction and operations plan (Energywire, Dec. 14, 2020).

The company said it needed to reconsider the project’s application after deciding to use the larger, more powerful 13-megawatt Haliade-X turbines from General Electric Co. The upgrade will cut the likely number of turbines for the Vineyard project from 84 to 62.

The Trump administration responded by terminating the application and stating that the company would have to start over if it wanted to continue.

CEO Lars Pedersen said today that he hopes that wouldn’t be necessary.

“We would hope [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] would resume the review where they left off,” he said.

BOEM did not provide comment for this story.

The Trump administration was an early advocate for offshore wind despite the former president’s frequent critical remarks and confrontational history with the industry. But offshore wind’s relationship to the administration cooled dramatically when David Bernhardt took the helm of the Interior Department in 2019.

Bernhardt halted Vineyard’s project within weeks of its final decision. He launched a cumulative analysis of the impact that the growing offshore wind industry would have on other ocean users and fisheries. Commercial fishermen have been some of the most critical ocean stakeholders in the face of the offshore wind boom, worried that navigation, safety and fishing stocks are threatened by the incoming industry.

That supplemental analysis was completed and tacked onto Vineyard’s application, but the administration delayed the project several more times before Vineyard’s sudden withdrawal in December that circumvented the Trump administration’s ability to have the final call.

If the Biden administration agrees to take up the project where it left off, Pedersen said he would expect a final decision to come out in the first half of this year, with turbines connected to the grid by late 2023.

Despite the uncertainty, Pedersen said the company had no regrets about the pause it initiated at the tail end of the Trump years, saying it was a calculated risk.

Their internal review of the larger turbines did not require any changes to their permit application, he said, increasing expectation that BOEM can start where it left off.

“We know it’s not fully our decision,” he said. “But we feel pretty confident that after a three-year review, this project has been studied as much as it can.”

The company was in contact with both presidential campaigns prior to the election but has not spoken with the Biden administration, Pedersen said today. But he echoed industry confidence that Biden’s climate policies would embrace offshore wind.

“Overall, our understanding is they wish to see renewable energy moving forward, and offshore wind is part of that plan,” he said.

Biden has committed the United States to net-zero emissions by 2050 and a carbon-free power system by 2035.

Vineyard estimates that once active, its wind facility could drive down carbon emissions by 1.6 million tons per year.