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Offshore Wind Project South of Martha's Vineyard Clears Last Regulatory Hurdle

The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal will serve as the onshore staging ground for Vineyard Wind's project. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal will serve as the onshore staging ground for Vineyard Wind's project. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The country’s first large-scale offshore wind project has cleared its final significant regulatory hurdle, bringing the long-anticipated U.S. offshore wind revolution one step closer to reality.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Interior Department announced it had approved Vineyard Wind’s plan to build an 800-megawatt wind farm off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. This so-called “Record of Decision” comes two months after the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) completed a final environmental review of the project.

This “is a significant milestone in our efforts to build a clean and more equitable energy future while addressing the climate emergency,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said during a press briefing Tuesday. “Offshore wind is a critical component of the president’s priorities, and it’s an important opportunity for growth in the United States.”

The $2.8 billion project, known as Vineyard Wind 1, will consist of 62 turbines spaced about a mile apart and each standing about 837 feet above the water’s surface. Using cables buried beneath the ocean floor, the power from these turbines will plug into the New England grid onshore in Barnstable.

The project is expected to produce enough renewable electricity to power 400,000 Massachusetts homes every year, while also saving ratepayers billions of dollars and reducing annual CO2 emissions in the state by about 1.68 million metric tons.

Lars Pedersen, Vineyard Wind’s CEO, recently told WBUR that he expects the company to have all financial plans and construction contracts in place later this year so that offshore construction can begin in early 2022. The massive turbines are slated to be installed in early 2023 and should begin delivering renewable energy to the grid by the end of that year.

“Today’s Record of Decision is not about the start of a single project, but the launch of a new industry,” Pedersen said in an email statement. “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.”

Local environmental groups throughout New England also praised the announcement.

“Responsibly developed offshore wind will be the workhorse of our decarbonization efforts in our region – and it holds enormous potential to grow the economy, meet our energy needs, and create equitable economic benefits for decades to come,” said Susannah Hatch, director of New England for Offshore Wind, a coalition group of local environmentalists, businesses, academic institutions and labor unions.

Francis Pullaro, executive director of the non-profit environmental group RENEW Northeast said the news from BOEM “comes with a feeling of elation for citizens, companies, environmentalists, and communities invested in a sustainable future for Massachusetts and for the nation.”

She added that it is “notable and commendable that BOEM considered viewpoints from local communities, labor, Native American tribes, and environmentalists — ensuring that renewable energy will not come at the expense of the coastal and marine environment.”

Getting to this point was not easy or inevitable.

After winning Massachusetts’ first round of offshore wind project bids, Vineyard Wind submitted its project application to the federal government in 2017. The review process was supposed to take two years, but in the summer of 2019, the Trump administration unexpectedly hit the pause button. Several other East Coast states had announced plans for large wind farms off their coasts, and with so many projects in the pipeline, federal officials said they wanted to assess the cumulative impacts of the whole industry before signing off on Vineyard Wind.

The project was put back on track soon after President Biden took office. Unlike the Trump administration, which never looked fondly on the offshore wind industry, the Biden administration has said it’s going all in on this renewable resource as part of its dual goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and creating green jobs.

In March, federal officials set a national goal of installing 30 gigawatts (or 30,000 megawatts) of offshore wind capacity in the water by 2030. According to the White House, hitting this target would create thousands of jobs, avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions and provide enough clean electricity to power about 10 million homes in the U.S. every year.

It’s an ambitious goal for a nascent industry that has lagged far behind its European counterpart. The U.S. currently has seven turbines in the Atlantic Ocean that generate about 42 megawatts of power. Europe, by contrast, has more than 5,000 offshore turbines generating about 25 gigawatts of power.

While Vineyard Wind — a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners — has the first large-scale project in line for federal approval, there are several others in the federal review pipeline right behind it. According to a report from The American Clean Power Association, East Coast states have so far pledged to build 25 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035.

Earlier this year, BOEM announced plans to open new federal lease areas off of New York and promised to complete reviews for 16 wind projects by 2025.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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