Vineyard Wind vows to move forward despite fed hold-up

New timeline uncertain after delay from environmental review

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

VINEYARD WIND ON Monday vowed that it will move forward with its $2.8 billion, 84-turbine wind farm project despite a new delay caused by the federal government, though the project will take shape on a new, yet-to-be-determined timeline.

The US Department of the Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Friday put a freeze on a crucial environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind, once slated to be the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in America, so they can study the wider impacts of an offshore wind industry that is quickly ramping up.

Vineyard Wind officials had said in July that the entire project would be at risk if the federal government did not issue the permit by the end of August and the latest delay is likely to upend the supply chain, financing, and construction timeline for the project chosen by the Baker administration and state utility companies to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law.

On Monday, Vineyard Wind — a joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables — said its shareholders had “affirmed a commitment to deliver a proposed 800-megawatt (MW) wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts, albeit with a delayed project schedule.”

Project officials have been working with contractors and financiers to rework the timeline — and Gov. Charlie Baker has spoken with Vice President Mike Pence about the project — but a new schedule has not yet been determined.

“We were less than four months away from launching a new industry in the United States, so we thank the more than 50 US 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,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a press release. “We remain committed to delivering that ambitious target.”

The company said that it has not received any documentation detailing BOEM’s supplemental analysis announced Friday but said that 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.”

Vineyard Wind had been planning to financially close on its project and begin on-shore construction work this year, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021, and have the 84-turbine wind farm generating electricity in 2022.

BOEM gave no timeline for its supplemental review, but federal officials had previously said they were looking at Vineyard Wind within a review window that extends into March 2020. It is unclear whether that timeline has changed due to the supplemental analysis. BOEM did not respond to inquiries from the News Service on Monday.

Baker, who met with US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in Washington, DC, in late July to talk about Vineyard Wind, discussed the planned wind project with Pence on Saturday when the vice president landed in Nantucket, Baker’s office said.

“The administration remains committed to advancing Massachusetts as a national leader in offshore wind energy and will keep working with Vineyard Wind and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management during the federal permitting process so this project and future procurements can deliver reliable, cost-effective clean energy that will create local jobs, stabilize the cost of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Baker spokesman Brendan Moss said Monday.

The Baker administration and state utility companies are gearing up to accept bids for a second 800 megawatts of offshore wind power later this month. It is unclear whether BOEM’s new analysis will affect that procurement.

Cryptically, Vineyard Wind said it will use the time during the latest delay to “to further improve the project and enhance its many benefits, to the extent feasible.”

An initial version of Vineyard Wind’s press release had Pedersen saying Vineyard Wind would meet its targets but “in a different configuration.” That line was inadvertently included in the quote, a Vineyard Wind official said, and there has been no discussion of changing the configuration of the wind farm’s turbines at this point.

The configuration of the project’s turbines has been a point of contention as Vineyard Wind has sought to shore up consent from the fishing industry. Fishing interests have taken issue with how Vineyard Wind planned to orient its turbines from northwest to southeast rather than from east to west and the amount of space between turbines.

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Last week, Vineyard Wind released a graphic showing the average distance planned between its turbines, 0.88 nautical miles, and the distance between Fenway Park and the Trinity Church in Copley Square, 0.78 nautical miles.

“The industry needs to grapple with ocean use conflicts in the US in a meaningful way. In their rush, Vineyard didn’t,” Jeff Grybowski, the former CEO of Deepwater Wind, tweeted Monday. “What is it about Mass energy projects?”