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First New England Wind Project In Federal Waters Moves Forward

On March 8 the Department of Interior approved the final environmental review of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind energy project. The project, which has been in development in various forms for nearly two decades, will consist of up to 84 turbines generating around 800 megawatts of electricity from a site 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. If all permits are granted, the $2.8 billion project would be the first large-scale wind power development in New England federal waters.

While former president Donald Trump clearly stated his opposition to land and ocean-based wind power, President Biden declared that his administration’s aim is to double offshore wind electricity production by 2030. Vineyard Wind’s developers, Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, temporarily withdrew their application in December, 2020, based on worries that the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM), part of the Department of Interior, would reject the environmental impact statement; the companies re-introduced their application shortly after Biden’s inauguration.

If it receives all necessary permits, Vineyard Wind will be the first large-scale wind farm in federal waters. Photo courtesy of Daily Energy Insider.

The wind farm within the 167,000-acre lease area off Martha’s Vineyard will produce enough electricity to power about 400,000 homes, according to Vineyard Wind. Cables buried six feet below the ocean floor will carry electricity to Cape Cod, where the power will feed into the New England grid.

Vineyard Wind still must receive additional permits from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers and approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service. BOEM must wait at least 30 days from the publication of the final environmental impact statement to issue a record of decision.

Vineyard Wind officials have said that they hope to begin onshore work in the latter part of 2021. Offshore construction would begin in 2022 with an expectation that the turbines would begin generating power by late 2023. Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a non-profit organization representing commercial fishing organizations and businesses, criticized BOEM for failing to expand transit lanes to four miles in the lease area to accommodate larger fishing boats.

Vineyard Wind and the four other developers holding leases for offshore wind sites off New England have agreed to orient their turbines in fixed east-to-west rows and north-to-south columns spaced one nautical mile apart. Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard concluded that the grid layout was the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Biden administration is asking for the turbines to be spaced about a mile apart to allow smaller vessels to continue to fish between them.

Offshore wind power projects are popping up fast and furiously in response to the expressed intent of eastern states to buy at least 25,000 megawatts of offshore electricity by 2035, according to the American Clean Power Association.

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