First US Utility-Scale Offshore Wind Farm Delayed Yet Again

Block Island wind farm. Image: Wikimedia Commons

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer

A plan to build the first utility-scale offshore wind project near Cape Cod— The Vineyard Wind project— has been delayed once again. The project has been delayed over a year as the federal government has requested increasingly rigorous permits. 

A final permit for the Vineyard Wind project had been expected by December 18, 2020, but the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management pushed its decision back to January 15, 2021.

Why This Matters: President Trump has been hostile toward the renewable energy industry, but his continued delay of this offshore power development has been particularly noteworthy. In a press conference at the end of the G-7 summit in August 2019, the President said he would not “lose” our country’s “tremendous wealth … on dreams and windmills, which, frankly, aren’t working too well.”  He’s added that natural gas would work much better than “big windmills that destroy everybody’s property values, kill all the birds” and rely on the wind blowing.

As the Financial Times explained, Vineyard Wind is a joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid, a US subsidiary of Spain’s Iberdrola.

  • The more than $3bn first phase project has contracted to sell power to utilities in Massachusetts, generating enough electricity to serve more than 400,000 households and businesses, the company has said.

Wind project developers hope that a Biden administration will mean that stalled projects such and Vineyard Wind can begin to make headway again.

A Project Riddled with Delays: As WBUR reported

“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.”

A Hostile White House: While the Trump administration has dismissed wind power, offshore wind projects make economic sense— a December 2018 federal auction for ocean tracts off the coast of Massachusetts earned $405 million. There are many wind turbine projects in development, such that BOEM 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.

Next Steps: Had the timeline of the Vineyard Wind project continued as initially planned, funding would have been finalized and construction would have begun in 2019, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021, and started generating electricity in 2022. The CEO of Vineyard Wind, Lars Pedersen, suggested that his company will be prepared to begin construction as soon as it gets final government approval. 

Hopefully, the project will get approval, to allow the United States to catch up to Europe and Asia in maximizing its offshore wind energy capacity, since Europe has 22,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity, Asia has 8,000, while the United States only has just over 40.

  • The United States has 15 active commercial leases for offshore wind farms and according to statistics from the American Wind Energy Association, if these farms were constructed, they could generate 30 gigawatts of electricity, create 83,000 jobs, and bring in 25 billion dollars in annual economic output over the next ten years.

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