Vineyard Wind will take a little while longer to complete an already-delayed federal permitting process to build the first large-scale U.S. offshore wind project. But it will have bigger wind turbines to build it with — and a potentially more friendly federal review process under the Biden administration when it resubmits its paperwork.
On Tuesday, the development group announced it is temporarily withdrawing its construction and operations plan for its 800-megawatt wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts from review by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
The joint venture of Iberdrola’s Avangrid utility and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners said the decision was driven by the need to complete an internal technical review that includes its new plan to use GE's Haliade-X wind turbines. These are the world’s largest at present at 12 to 13 megawatts of nameplate generation capacity, although Siemens Gamesa has a 14 MW turbine in the works.
Vineyard had originally planned to use MHI Vestas’ 9.5 MW turbines. But replacing them with the larger GE turbines will cut the number of towers in its first 400-megawatt phase from 84 to 62. That could allow Vineyard to reduce the scope of the $2.8 billion projects sited 15 miles off the Massachusetts coast in ways that could accommodate fishing industry groups concerned about its impact.
The switch will also give the project a “made in America” label, drawing praise from the American Wind Energy Association as a “historic step forward for American offshore wind energy.”
Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in Tuesday’s announcement that picking GE as its preferred turbine supplier “means that a historic American company will play a vital role” in the first of several commercial-scale offshore wind projects planned for the U.S. East Coast.
Pedersen added that "while the decision to pause the ongoing process was difficult, taking this step now avoids potentially more federal delays, and we are convinced it will provide the shortest overall timeline for delivering the project as planned.” The developer plans to restart the process once the final review is done, he stated.
Shifting the review timeline from the Trump administration to the Biden administration
Vineyard’s decision will also shift the timeline for BOEM to complete its review of the project past Jan. 20, when President-elect Joe Biden will replace President Donald Trump. Under the Trump administration, Vineyard has faced a series of delays caused by BOEM, starting last year when the Interior Department agency extended its timeline to complete its review of the project’s supplemental environmental impact statement from late 2019 or early 2020 to sometime later this year.
In February, Vineyard officially pushed back its schedule for starting commercial operations from 2022 to 2023 at the earliest. That delay could threaten the project's eligibility for the federal Investment Tax Credit. Vineyard is seeking an extension of its ability to claim the credits, which under current law are set to be ratcheted down on an annual basis over the next four years.
BOEM ascribed the delay to the need to conduct a “cumulate impacts analysis” of the growing number of offshore wind projects being planned on the Atlantic Coast, driven by mandates from states from New England to the mid-Atlantic to build up to 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity over the coming decade.
BOEM’s draft environmental impact statement in June allayed some of the concerns of the offshore wind industry. The document held few unexpected findings, and now that it's complete, “it should pave the way for a more stable regulatory environment going forward,” David Hardy, president and COO of Ørsted’s U.S. offshore wind business, which owns the largest pipeline of future projects, told GTM in September.
But critics including U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) have accused the Trump administration of using the guise of environmental review to delay progress on the offshore clean energy build-out as a favor to its fossil fuel industry backers.
BOEM had set a December deadline for completing its environmental impact statement for the Vineyard Wind project, with an official record of the decision due on Jan. 15. The decision to delay this review will likely push those deadlines past the time that the Biden administration will take over.