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Feds Complete Final Environmental Review Of Vineyard Wind, Set To Be First Major Offshore Wind Project In U.S.

Federal officials have completed the environmental review of the Vineyard Wind I offshore wind project that is expected to deliver clean renewable energy to Massachusetts by the end of 2023.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said Monday morning that its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed the analysis it resumed about a month ago and will officially publish notice of the project's final environmental impact statement in the Federal Register later this week.

The 800-megawatt wind farm planned for 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard was the first offshore wind project selected by Massachusetts utility companies with input from the Baker administration to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said:

“We want to thank BOEM for all of the work they’ve done since we submitted the permit application in December of 2017 on this first-in-the-nation project. More than three years of federal review and public comment is nearing its conclusion and 2021 is poised to be a momentous year for our project and the broader offshore wind industry. Offshore wind is a historic opportunity to build a new industry that will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs, reduce electricity rates for consumers and contribute significantly to limiting the impacts of climate change.”

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Susannah Hatch, of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and New England for Offshore Wind, also applauded BOEM for moving the Vineyard Wind project forward one more step.

In a statement, she called offshore wind “the linchpin” of New England’s decarbonization goals” and said that “moving swiftly on responsibly developed offshore wind is critical to our efforts to mitigate climate change [and will] provide an enormous opportunity to grow the economy, create thousands of jobs, and drive equitable economic benefits through increased minority economic participation in New England.”

The Vineyard Wind project will eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually while also generating clean renewable electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts. It’s estimated that the project could create at least 3,600 jobs and reduce electricity costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion.

"Offshore energy development provides an opportunity for us to work with Tribal nations, communities and other ocean users to ensure all decisions are transparent and utilize the best available science," BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said. "We appreciate everyone's participation in the process and look forward to continuing to work with stakeholders on the future analysis of offshore wind projects."

The Vineyard Wind project faced several setbacks and delays under the Trump administration, most notably a decision in 2019 to hit pause on the environmental assessment process in order to take a more comprehensive look at the cumulative impacts of offshore wind development all along the Atlantic Coast.

Shortly after taking office, President Biden signed an executive order meant to bolster the offshore wind industry, and then last month, his administration announced it was restarting the environmental review process for Vineyard Wind that had been canceled by the Trump administration in late 2020.

“With every step taken to reinsert certainty, reliability, and scientific rigor into the regulatory process for the Vineyard Wind project, the Biden administration is putting wind back in the sails of this vital new industry,” Sen. Ed Markey said in a statement. “We urge the administration and all relevant stakeholders to continue working together for the responsible development of wind off our coast, in order to energize the economy, provide affordable electricity, and move us further into a climate-safe future.”

The commercial fishing industry has been among the most vocal opponents of aspects of the Vineyard Wind project. The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance has repeatedly urged the Biden administration to ensure the voices of the industry are heard throughout the licensing and permitting process.

With the final environmental impact statement published, Vineyard Wind still must secure a record of decision and sign-offs from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service to officially clear the way for the project. It is on track to be the nation's first utility-scale offshore wind farm.

BOEM must wait at least 30 days from the publication of the final environmental impact statement to issue a record of decision.

Project officials have said they expect the final impact statement and then a record of decision "sometime in the first half of 2021."

That would allow the project to hit its financial close milestone in the second half of this year. Quickly thereafter, it would be able to begin on-shore work. The project would start offshore construction in 2022, begin installing turbines in 2023 and begin exporting power to the grid in late 2023, CEO Pedersen said in January.


With reporting from WBUR's Miriam Wasser and State House News Service's Colin A. Young

This article was originally published on March 08, 2021.

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