Political Interference Blamed for Vineyard Wind Delays
February 15, 2020
Vineyard Wind is coming to terms with the fact that its wind project is behind schedule, as accusations of political meddling escalate.
On Feb. 7, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released an updated permitting guideline that moved the facility’s likely completion date beyond Jan. 15, 2022 — the day the $2.8 billion project is under contract to begin delivering 400 megawatts of electricity capacity to Massachusetts.
Vineyard Wind is now renegotiating its power-purchase agreement with the three utilities that are buying the electricity. The company is also in discussions with the Treasury Department about preserving an expiring tax credit.
The delay is being caused by a holdup with BOEM’s environmental impact statement (EIS). A draft of the report was initially expected last year, but after the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to endorse the report, it was pushed off until late 2019 or early 2020. Back then several members of Congress from Massachusetts claimed the delay was politically motivated.
BOEM now is predicting that the draft EIS won’t be ready until June 12, with a final decision by Dec. 18. The setback is significant because the draft EIS is being counted on to shape the mapping of other offshore wind facilities slated for the seven federal wind-energy lease areas off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
The Coast Guard recently released its Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study (MARIPARS). The report favors the grid design proposed by wind developers and discounted concerns about radar interference.
This navigational safety report also recommends that if the turbine layout in the entire Massachusetts and Rhode Island wind area is developed using “a standard and uniform grid pattern” then special vessel routing lanes wouldn’t be required.
The Coast Guard’s findings improve the prospect for development of all seven wind-energy lease areas. But the MARIPARS report and the draft EIS both require public comment periods and hearings.
Lars Pedersen, CEO of Vineyard Wind, said of the setback, “We look forward to the clarity that will come with a final EIS so that Vineyard Wind can deliver this project to Massachusetts and kick off the new U.S. offshore energy industry.”
This latest delay has again been criticized by members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation as a ploy by President Trump to demonstrate his aversion to wind energy and his favoritism for fossil-fuel companies.
On Feb. 5, two days before BOEM released the new timeline, Massachusetts’ two U.S. senators and seven members of Congress sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office expressing their outrage over Trump’s hypocrisy.
“Despite seeking expedited environmental reviews for numerous fossil fuel infrastructure projects, Trump administration officials in the Department of the Interior have ordered a sweeping environmental review of the burgeoning offshore wind industry, a move that threatens to stall or even derail this growing industry, and raises a host of questions for future developments,” according to the letter.
In a recent interview with the Vineyard Gazette, Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., whose district includes Martha’s Vineyard, said he believes BOEM planned to release the draft EIS much sooner, but stalled the report after political pressure from superiors in the Department of Interior or the Trump administration until after the presidential election in November.
“It’s clear to me that these are political decisions and not guided by wanting to mitigate environmental impacts,” Keating said.
When asked about the political interference, BOEM replied that the delays are caused by public comments that call for a more thorough review of a large and disruptive change to nearshore waters. Those comments cited the upsurge in new wind projects, an increase in the size of wind turbines used by Vineyard Wind, and potential conflicts with commercial fishing and navigation.
Meanwhile, investments in wind project port facilities continue along southern New England. Gov. Gina Raimondo has earmarked $20 million in her proposed budget for improvements to the Port of Davisville at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown, R.I. The work includes dredging, repair of an existing pier, and construction of a new pier.
Mayflower Wind, the next project after Vineyard Wind to win an energy contract from Massachusetts, recently announced its intention to make the New Bedford Marine Terminal its primary construction hub for its 804-megawatt project.