The Vineyard Wind project has been delayed again.
The project, which is poised to be the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the country, is already more than a year behind schedule and now will have to wait about a month longer. A federal decision on final permitting for the project had been expected by Dec. 18, 2020, but the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management updated its timeline in recent weeks and now expects a final decision by Jan. 15, 2021.
"BOEM received more than 13,000 comments on the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Vineyard Wind," a spokesman for the agency told the News Service in an email. "BOEM continues to work with cooperating agencies in the review of these comments. An updated schedule is posted on BOEM's website."
A final federal decision on the 800-megawatt offshore wind farm had initially been expected by Aug. 16, 2019 but BOEM sent shockwaves through the offshore wind industry in August 2019 when it announced a plan to withhold the final environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind while it studies the wider impacts of an offshore wind sector that is hoping to ramp up in Northeast and mid-Atlantic waters also used by the fishing industry.
Vineyard Wind had originally planned to financially close on its project and begin on-shore construction work in 2019, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021 and have the 84-turbine wind farm 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard generating electricity in 2022. Project executives have acknowledged that the joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables won't come online until at least 2023.
In June, when BOEM published a supplement to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project, Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen told the News Service that his company will be ready to go as soon as, or as long as, it gets final federal approvals.
"Once we have the final permits in hand we will be well-prepared to move forward as soon as reasonably possible," Pedersen said. "Of course, we also need to see if there are any other conditions in the permit that might change our view on the viability of the project, but from reading the document as it is right now we feel that it strikes a good balance."
A big part of the rationale for BOEM's so-called cumulative impacts review was that there are now so many more potential offshore wind developments in the pipeline than there were when BOEM published the initial draft EIS for Vineyard Wind in December 2018.
The 2018 draft EIS looked at approximately 6,800 MW of offshore wind projects, but having since analyzed the full extent of "reasonably foreseeable offshore wind development" in the Atlantic, BOEM said it now expects approximately 22 gigawatts of offshore wind development in total, based on the construction of about 2,000 wind turbines over a 10-year period.
Under BOEM's newest timeline, a federal decision on the Vineyard Wind project is expected in the final week of President Donald Trump's administration, which Congressional lawmakers and some in the energy world have accused of being prejudiced against wind developments. U.S. Rep. Bill Keating has referenced a "baseless personal vendetta President Trump has taken against wind farms throughout his career."
Trump has repeatedly criticized wind power despite state-level efforts to develop the renewable source into a larger part of the country's energy infrastructure. In a speech in Pennsylvania last year, Trump praised fossil fuels like natural gas over "big windmills that destroy everybody's property values, kill all the birds" and rely on the wind blowing.
Asked at a G7 press conference in August 2019 how the world should address climate change, Trump responded by describing "tremendous wealth" in the United States.
"I'm not going to lose that wealth, I'm not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which, frankly, aren't working too well," the president said.
Though Trump has knocked the industry, the offshore wind world has been a profitable boon for the government: Trump's Department of the Interior dubbed a December 2018 auction for ocean tracts off the coast of Massachusetts that netted $405 million a "BIDDING BONANZA."