Vineyard Wind renews commitment to project despite delay

Source: By Mary Ann Bragg, Cape Cod Times • Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2019

NEW BEDFORD — Vineyard Wind shareholders have affirmed a commitment to deliver a wind farm south of the Islands despite a delay announced Friday by federal regulators. The wind farm will be revised, according to the company.

“We were less than four months away from launching a new industry in the United States, so we thank the more than 50 U.S. companies already awarded a contract or currently bidding on contracts, the financial institutions engaged in raising more than $2 billion in capital, and the first-class, global contractors that have joined us in planning for the first large-scale offshore wind farm in America,” Lars Pedersen, Vineyard Wind’s chief executive officer, said Monday.

As late as March, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had intended to deliver by Friday a final environmental impact statement and record of decision on Vineyard Wind’s 84-turbine construction and operations plan. But, by summer, BOEM’s schedule had begun to slip as the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard all urged the bureau to consider a wider cumulative analysis than what was in the draft.

On Friday, BOEM said that rather than issue a final environmental impact statement, it will write and seek public comment on a supplement to the draft statement. The supplement will more fully analyze the Vineyard Wind plan in light of several potential industrial-sized wind farms that could be developed in the federal lease area south of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

As of Monday, the company said it had not received any documentation about the requirements for BOEM’s expanded analysis. “However, it is clear that the timing of such an analysis is not compatible with the original timeline that has been communicated to Vineyard Wind since March 2018, which Vineyard Wind used to build its delivery schedule,” the company, co-owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables, said in a statement. “With this development, the shareholders must revise the project as the original timeline is no longer feasible.”

Currently, about 1 million acres of federal waters — roughly the size of Rhode Island — are under long-term lease agreements with Vineyard Wind and other offshore wind developers.

Expressions of support for Vineyard Wind have emerged, including a public rally planned at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable, convened by the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, which supports the project.

“It’s a rally with an edge,” said APCC Executive Director Andrew Gottlieb. The concern among at least 12 Cape-based organizations that will be represented at the rally is that the delay announced by BOEM is an attempt by the Trump administration to put an end to alternative energy projects in favor of fossil fuels.

“The Department of the Interior’s regrettable decision to further delay the review of the Vineyard Wind project undermines the Trump administration’s American energy dominance agenda and a major U.S. economic growth opportunity,” said Tom Kiernan, the chief executive officer of American Wind Energy Association. “Offshore wind development is expected to result in a $70 billion investment into the American energy supply chain.”

BOEM said it intends to expand its analysis by looking at offshore wind projects in the planning stages, such as those with state-level power purchase agreements but no federal filings yet, or those where power purchase agreements are expected to be awarded. In Massachusetts, for example, electricity utility companies are currently seeking proposals for a second 800-megawatt offshore wind project. Also, Sunshine Wind, a partnership of Orsted and Eversource, is in line to provide offshore wind power to New York from a lease area south of Rhode Island.

A growing field of industrial-scale wind farms adjacent to one another is a concern, the federal agencies said.

“One of the Coast Guard’s paramount concerns is the ability of mariners to safely and routinely transit from one end of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island wind energy area to the other on a relatively straight track-line at a relatively consistent speed,” Capt. Chris Glander, Coast Guard commander in southeastern New England, wrote in his comments on the draft statement.

BOEM should expand its definition of cumulative analysis beyond a 10-mile radius around the proposed Vineyard Wind project, according to Glander. Instead, a cumulative analysis should consider the entire Rhode Island and Massachusetts lease area, as well as vessel ports of call such as New Bedford, Point Judith, Rhode Island, and Montauk, New York, he said.

“The companies that have secured leases to these offshore wind development sites have made a substantial investment, and it is reasonably foreseeable to anticipate this investment will lead to offshore wind development,” said Michael Pentony, the regional administrator of National Marine Fisheries Service.

A displacement of commercial fishermen in the Vineyard Wind lease area is a primary concern, and the potential negative effects on revenue, safety and other factors were not adequately analyzed in the draft, Pentony said. The effect of pile driving on marine animals during wind farm construction was not adequately analyzed either, he said, and an analysis of how fish habitat could change was inadequate.

Pentony urged BOEM officials to consider the likely development of adjacent lease areas in a cumulative assessment to allow for a meaningful understanding of the impact of wind energy on natural resources and fishing communities.