Updated 5 pm
The federal government gave the greenlight to the Vineyard WInd 1 offshore wind farm on Tuesday, a decision that allows mobilization and construction processes to begin. The news was released by the U.S. Department of the Interior Tuesday morning.
“Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo today announced approval of the construction and operation of the Vineyard Wind project — the first large-scale, offshore wind project in the United States,” the release states. “The Secretaries were joined in the announcement by labor leaders who have been working to ensure that the project is built and maintained by union labor.”
The wind farm itself will feature 62 GE Haliade-X turbines, and is expected to have an overall cost of approximately $2 billion. The 62 turbines will produce 800 megawatts of electricity. That electricity will be sent through two export cables buried under the Atlantic seafloor. The cables will pass through the Muskeget Channel, about a mile off Chappaquiddick, and stretch across Nantucket Sound to a landfall at Barnstable, where they will send electricity into the grid. Edgartown’s conservation commission clashed with Vineyard Wind over the cables, but eventually reached a settlement.
“A clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said through the release. “The approval of this project is an important step toward advancing the administration’s goals to create good-paying union jobs while combating climate change and powering our nation.”
“Today’s offshore wind project announcement demonstrates that we can fight the climate crisis, while creating high-paying jobs and strengthening our competitiveness at home and abroad,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said through a release. “This project is an example of the investments we need to achieve the Biden-Harris administration’s ambitious climate goals, and I’m proud to be part of the team leading the charge on offshore wind.”
Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen characterized Tuesday’s news as the launch of an entire industry. “Today’s Record of Decision is not about the start of a single project, but the launch of a new industry,” Pedersen said through a release. “Receiving this final major federal approval means the jobs, economic benefits, and clean energy revolution associated with the Vineyard Wind 1 project can finally come to fruition. It’s been a long road to get to this point, but ultimately, we are reaching the end of this process with the strongest possible project.”
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Pedersen fielded questions from The Times about how Tuesday’s decision would advance the proposed operations and maintenance facility in Vineyard Haven, and what it will do for New Bedford’s economic prospects.
Pedersen said the facility is in its final stage of permitting. “On Martha’s Vineyard we are moving this forward, and we’ll be looking forward to the day when we can actually contribute to the working waterfront with a lot of high-skilled jobs on the Island,” he said. “That’s going to be a great day for us.”
Some of the high-skilled jobs Pedersen spoke of stem from a program run by ACE MV.
Overall the Vineyard 1 wind farm is expected to generate numerous jobs, including on the Vineyard, with an operations and maintenance facility planned in Vineyard Haven that is expected to employ a number of homegrown wind farm technicians. ACE MV is training those technicians.
In an email to The Times, ACE MV executive director Holly Bellebuono described today’s news as promising.
“ACE MV is excited about the Vineyard Wind approval, as this will not only provide jobs for Martha’s Vineyard residents but it especially signals a commitment for renewable energy within our region, which is badly needed,” Bellebuono wrote. “Because ACE MV’s mission is to provide learning opportunities for Vineyard residents — especially to provide workforce education — this approval is a welcome announcement. We will continue working with Bristol Community College (with funding through the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center) to deliver our offshore wind turbine technician certificate. One of ACE MV’s values is to support renewable energy efforts, providing workforce programming that is ecologically friendly and advances the Vineyard’s environmental health.”
Ralph Packer, who owns the Tisbury Marine Terminal on Beach Road where the operations and maintenance facility is planned, told The Times Wednesday two Massachusetts agencies have recently set back the project. Packer said plans for the facility were submitted to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
“Their response was it’s not permitted under state regulations for Vineyard Haven Harbor,” Packer said. “That’s where we stand right now.”
Packer said another proposal is being submitted to those agencies. He added Vineyard Haven is an advantageous location for the facility.
“There’s deep water, we’re 25 miles nearer to the wind turbines, and the vessels they want to use are very capable of passing through Muskeget Channel. So we are a very good spot for them, and we are very much compassionate to renewable energy.”
MassDEP and the Office of Coastal Zone Management couldn’t immediately be reached to confirm the permitting denial.
Asked if he sensed a political problem at work, Packer said, “We live in Massachusetts, don’t we?”
He described the decision to allow Vineyard Wind 1 to move forward as “very exciting.”
In an email to The Times, Martha’s Vineyard Commission chair Joan Malkin wrote the MVC’s goals align with Vineyard Wind.“The federal approval of Vineyard Wind’s offshore wind project is a huge plus for the Island,” Malkin wrote. “The commission has consistently supported Vineyard Wind, having approved its cable project a few years ago, and, more recently, having written to BOEM underscoring the project’s significance and seeking its approval. Vineyard Wind’s goals of delivering renewable wind energy to Massachusetts and beyond are consistent with the commission’s initiatives on climate change mitigation, specifically the MVC’s Climate Action Task Force’s efforts to reduce fossil fuel consumption on the Island and the recently adopted Energy Policy, which emphasizes all-electric energy for DRIs and the use of renewable energy where feasible. This is a win for all, but it is especially meaningful for the Vineyard.”
Pedersen said New Bedford is now poised to be a hub of assembly activity.
“We will assemble the turbines in New Bedford,” Pedersen said. “And you will also see a number of the other pieces of this [project] using the Port of New Bedford. So I would assume starting in ’22, you will start seeing significant offshore-wind-related activities there.”
Pedersen went on to say that with construction of the turbines expected in 2023, a phase called “marshaling” will occur, which he described as “getting the subcomponents in for the turbines,” assembling them on shore, and shipping them offshore to be installed.
“You will see the commercial terminal be very, very busy in New Bedford,” he said.
Long a critic of industrial-scale offshore wind on behalf of fishermen, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) issued a statement following the decision Tuesday. Among other issues RODA mentioned was the long-argued subject of spacing between wind turbines for the passage of vessels.
“The proposed mitigation measure of spacing the turbines 1×1 nautical miles apart on its own is insufficient to ensure safety at sea for all types of fishermen and other seagoing vessels,” RODA stated. “While many fishermen supported the 1×1 nautical mile uniformity on an east-west orientation for the Vineyard Wind project over its original layout proposal, the process of soliciting and evaluating alternatives was and remains wholly flawed. We strongly oppose [the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)] approach of giving greater credence to commenters without the relevant expertise in marine operations over the fishing industry’s expert testimony regarding safety. We do not know, nor were fishermen asked, the safety and operating impacts of this spacing across the entire coast. Instead of learning from fishermen’s experience, BOEM now rewards those who ignore traditional knowledge and shoehorn data into predetermined outcomes based on political preference or financial goals.”
In response to a press question in January, Pedersen said in part on the subject, “[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.”
Updated with more local reaction.