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Delay From Environmental Regulators Blows Vineyard Wind Off Course04:22
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Three of Deepwater Wind's five turbines stand in the water off Block Island, Rhode Island, seen in August 2016. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Three of Deepwater Wind's five turbines stand in the water off Block Island, Rhode Island, seen in August 2016. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Construction of the $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind, the nation's first utility-scale offshore wind farm, is on hold as developers wait for an environmental impact statement from federal regulators.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management does not technically have to submit the impact statement until early next year, but it was expected in mid-July, and regulators gave no reason for the delay.

An investigation by Reuters found that two other federal agencies — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service — refused to sign off on the project’s design, citing concerns over its impact on commercial fishing.

On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker met with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt in Washington, D.C., to urge movement on the project.

"I thought our meeting was a good one," Baker said. "Our goal is to get as much clarity as possible and put together a plan because we really want this project to happen."

Massachusetts law seeks to have 3,200 megawatts of electricity provided by offshore wind by 2035, which could represent over 20% of electricity consumed in the state, according to Vineyard Wind.

The design calls for 84 wind turbines about 15 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, generating enough energy to power over 400,000 homes. The wind farm has to begin generating electricity by early 2022 to meet contracts with the three utilities buying its power.

"Vineyard Wind notes that it is not unusual for there to be ongoing review of an environmental impact statement as it makes its way through the internal approval process, especially for a project of this significance," the company said in a statement on its website. But, the statement posted July 18 says, "it would be very challenging to move forward the Vineyard Wind 1 project in its current configuration if the final [environmental impact statement] is not issued within, approximately, the next four to six weeks."

Construction was supposed to start this fall. And every step in the massive project must be carefully choreographed; for instance, a unique ship is needed to place the towers in their foundations, and must be reserved years in advance.

"Suppliers should be lined up for this project by now and there are a ton of contracts flying around with specific dates that are not to be trifled with," says Anthony Logan, a senior research analyst of the U.S. wind market for the research company Wood MacKenzie.

If Vineyard Wind doesn't begin construction by the end of this year, it could lose critical federal tax subsidies.

But Logan is optimistic: "They will pull strings where strings are available to be pulled to make sure the project can get over the finish line."

This segment aired on July 30, 2019.

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Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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