Updated Jan. 26
Vineyard Wind, the wind energy developer that aims to construct America’s first industrial-scale offshore wind farm some 15 miles south of Aquinnah, has resuscitated its project permit process. The company formally pulled out of the federal permitting process on Dec. 1.
The reason given was that more time was needed to execute an internal technical review of the project, notably of new GE turbines that will be employed. The project, known as Vineyard Wind 1, will feature 62 GE Haliade-X turbines, and is anticipated to have an overall cost of just over $2 billion. The 62 turbines are meant to generate 800 megawatts of electricity that will be sent through two export cables buried under the Atlantic seabed. The cables will pass through the Muskeget Channel off Chappaquiddick, and stretch across Nantucket Sound to a landfall at Barnstable, where they can send electricity into the grid. Edgartown’s conservation commission butted heads with Vineyard Wind over the cables, but eventually reached a settlement.
Vineyard Wind’s project hibernation period coincides with the recent defeat of President Donald Trump at the polls. However, Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pederson gave little indication at a virtual press conference Monday morning that the time-out was related to Trump.
Not known for his love of wind energy, Trump, in his waning days, appeared to be setting as many executive order roadblocks and boobytraps for the Biden administration as he could. In going into sleep mode, Vineyard Wind may have effectively removed itself as a target, but Pederson did not characterize it that way. He noted his company had been “in detailed contact with the two campaigns prior to the election,” and did not indicate there was an ulterior motive for pulling out of the permitting process. He expressed a small measure of optimism with the administration of President Joe Biden, based on what’s been conveyed to Vineyard Wind thus far.
“Of course we have had sort of initial indications from the Biden team in general that they are favorable to renewable energy,” he said, “but I don’t think I have seen any specific or particular announcement regarding offshore wind.”
If the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the key regulatory body for the approval of Vineyard Wind 1, doesn’t throw any curve balls, Pederson anticipates significant movement on the project this year.
Pederson hopes BEOM will publish a final environmental impact statement (EIS) and a record of decision in the first half of 2021.
“And then we are ready for what we call financial close,” he said, “which is actually a large milestone for us where everything comes together, the permitting, the design, procurement and engineering, and the financing. And then we would break ground pretty quickly on some of the onshore works. So making sure we have cables ready, and then we would start the offshore construction … in ’22 and turbine installation in ’23, and export power to the grid in late ’23.”
In Vineyard Haven, Pederson said, he hopes to have an operations and maintenance marine terminal “ready for the operational phase in 2023.”
That terminal, which is expected to berth two vessels, will be the gateway for homegrown offshore wind technicians to ply their trades on the offshore turbine towers. Students in a cooperative program between ACE MV and Bristol Community College are currently studying to be those offshore wind technicians.
“ACE MV is excited to continue moving forward with training for Vineyard residents,” Holly Bellebuono, executive director of ACE MV, emailed. “We are welcoming our second cohort of students this week, and our first cohort returns for their third semester of the four-semester certification program. Also, thanks to additional funding support through [the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center], ACE MV is planning a new marine science certificate program to complement our interest in renewable energy and offshore wind. As a nonprofit dedicated to providing training and education of the Martha’s Vineyard community and especially its workforce, we support the permitting process and all efforts to create renewable and clean energy.”
When asked about friction with commercial fishermen, Pederson said Vineyard Wind has worked to accommodate concerns in that industry. “I think we are very confident that offshore wind and commercial fisheries can coexist,” he said, “especially in the areas that are designated, and we have made significant concessions to accommodate commercial fishing …”
He pointed to a “late 2019” agreement where “all developers in the Northeast agreed to align the layout across all their lease areas in what is called a one-by-one nautical mile spacing. I’ve been working in this industry for more than 15 years; that’s the first time I’ve seen such cooperation. And I think we did that with commercial fisheries in mind, but also [with] safety and safe navigation [in mind]. [The] Coast Guard did an very elaborate study on that, and they concluded that you could both fish, navigate, and do safe search and rescue within such a proposal, so I think we have made significant accommodations, and I think once we start building these projects, I’m quite sure we will see that commercial fisheries and offshore wind can coexist, which is ultimately our goal.”
Nevertheless, the spacing falls short of what many commercial fishermen want — four-mile spacing. The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), an advocacy group for fishing interests and other fishing organizations, see four-mile-wide lanes through the turbines as a necessity for mobile gear fishing and safe navigation in general.
Pederson pointed out Vineyard Wind 1 will have a reduced nautical footprint, because the number of turbines and the towers that support them have shrunk in number. First conceived at over 100 turbine towers, that number was boiled down to 84, and with the new, more potent GE Haliade-X turbines, 800 megawatts is expected to be generated using only 62 turbine towers.
Updated with more details.