Baker presses for March Vineyard Wind decision

Refuses to criticize Trump; may seek accommodations for project

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER pressed the Trump administration on Wednesday to wrap up its environmental review of Vineyard Wind by March 2020, and indicated he is seeking accommodations for the wind farm in regard to federal tax credits and project timetables.

Even though President Trump appeared to disparage wind power at a summit in France earlier this week, Baker shied away from accusing the Trump administration of trying to kill Vineyard Wind by delaying action on its environmental impact statement. The governor said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has had an open door policy with his administration, knows the Vineyard Wind project intimately, and has assured him that the agency’s work will be done by March 2020.

Baker said Bernhardt feels the extended review of Vineyard Wind is needed because so many wind farm projects are now in the pipeline. “He said, ‘For me to move forward without doing some sort of analytics around the cumulative impact of all of this would be a mistake because I’m only going to get one shot at this,’” Baker said. “At this point he’s the regulator, he’s the decision maker. I’m taking him at his word on this stuff.”

Even if the federal government makes a decision by March 2020, there’s no guarantee Vineyard Wind will come off as planned. Many of the concerns being raised about the project are focused on its wind turbine layout. If federal regulators require that layout to be adjusted, additional underwater mapping may be needed to make it happen, which could take years to accomplish.

Baker appears to be taking his push for Vineyard Wind one step at a time. Along with the governors of Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, and Virginia, Baker sent a letter on Tuesday to Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, asking them to move quickly on the project review.

“We encourage you to explore options for ensuring that supplemental review be conducted expeditiously so that a Record of Decision for the Vineyard Wind Project can be issued by March 2020,” the letter said. “Further government delay would have negative impacts on this project, offshore wind development along the east coast, and the further expansion of American jobs that support this industry.”

In an interview following a meeting about a state-coordinated response to climate change, Baker said Bernhardt had assured him the work on Vineyard Wind could be done by March. “He felt March 2020 was a date they could achieve. That is the date Vineyard Wind is assuming they’re moving toward,” Baker said.

Vineyard Wind had hoped to begin construction this year. If construction does begin sometime after March 2020, the company would miss out on a chunk of funding from a federal tax credit that is being phased out. Given the delay is being caused by changes in the project review process, Baker said his administration is talking to federal regulators about extending the timeline for the tax credit.

“There are precedents around that,” Baker said.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Baker also said the state could be flexible about some of the milestones for the project. “I think time frames are something we’re willing to be flexible about, but we play within the framework of the bid,” said the governor, who wants to avoid having to put the procurement out to bid a second time.

Asked repeatedly about Trump’s derogatory comments about wind power, Baker never mentioned the president by name. “This is a proven technology,” he said in response to one query about Trump. “It’s a giant opportunity for the country and Massachusetts.”