“Vineyard Wind has withdrawn its construction and operation plans from the federal permitting process, suddenly throwing the future into limbo for the international consortium that has been at the front of the pack in the race to build offshore wind farms off the American eastern seaboard.”
– Noah Asimow | The Vineyard Gazette, December 14, 2020.
Part I yesterday reviewed the history and current status on three (of four) U.S. offshore wind projects: one proposed, one defunct, and one (barely) operational. They are:
Part II today reviews the status of the proposed $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind project in federal waters off the shore of Bedford, Massachusetts.
Vineyard Wind (Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables) proposes to build 100 or more wind turbines totaling 800 megawatts in federal waters 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Three years in the making, the project aims to serve approximately 400,000 homes.
In August 2019, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) pushed the stop button, requesting more information on the “cumulative impacts” for offshore wind turbine projects in the area.
And then just before Christmas 2020 came the news: Vineyard Wind withdrew its Federal Permitting Review. Here is how a local paper described it:
The process had seen repeated delays and slowdowns, but had nearly reached the finish line late last month, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) expected to release a final environmental impact statement by Jan. 15, five days before President Trump leaves office.
Now Vineyard Wind appears to be betting on the Biden administration for a fresh start.
“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,” said Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen in a followup statement Monday. “We intend to restart the BOEM process from where we left off as soon as we complete the final review.”
On Monday, a spokesman for BOEM confirmed in an email to the Gazette that the agency had received a letter from Vineyard Wind withdrawing its proposal, effectively halting the project’s years-long review process and leaving the overall status of the development unclear.
“BOEM is not actively reviewing Vineyard Wind’s application right now,” the statement said. “Vineyard Wind is welcome to submit a new construction and operations plan, at which time BOEM will begin an appropriate environmental and technical review.”
The spokesman did not clarify whether the agency intended to entirely restart the project’s permitting if or when Vineyard Wind submits a new project plan – which could lead to years-long delays.
Pause, Restart, or Termination?
The new strategy seems to be a Biden Administration rescue. But be careful: serious environmental issues remain that will inflame a lot of locals–and environmentalists too. A statement from BOEM (Department of the Interior, December 16, 2020) indicates deep problems:
“Vineyard Wind LLC’s Proposed Wind Energy Facility Offshore Massachusetts
AGENCY: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
SUMMARY: The preparation of an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) for the Construction and Operations Plan (COP) submitted by Vineyard Wind LLC (Vineyard Wind) concerning the construction and operation of an 800 megawatt wind energy facility offshore Massachusetts (Vineyard Wind 1 Project) is no longer necessary and the process is hereby terminated.
DATES: This termination takes effect immediately.”
On June 12, 2020, BOEM published a Supplement to the Draft EIS (Environmental Impact Study) as comments from the public and stakeholders, requesting an expanded analysis of fishing data, previously unavailable to BOEM, necessitated a further EIS to be published in the Federal Register by December 11, 2020. December 1st, Vineyard Wind, perhaps to avoid further scrutiny, withdrew effective “immediately.” It remains to be seen how the new design for the GE Haliade-X turbine, will somehow miraculously reinvigorate the COP (Construction and Operations Plan) …and kickstart reapplication.
The wording of the Statement by BOEM appears conclusive and definitive.
Reflecting on the failure of Vineyard Wind, activist Marie Stamos writes:
I passionately believe that any relinquishing of absolute clarity as to the unworthiness of industrial wind to power our planet will only give purchase to those who will sell us down the river to the economic and environmental destruction to be wreaked by unchecked greed, grievously empowered by the truly uninformed.
Writer and activist Barbara Durkin reminds colleagues in a December email: the jobs will not be U.S. based, and profits will be absconded with this grim reminder.
The Fishermen’s Meeting, Edgarton
Filmed by Activist Helen Parker, The Fishermen’s Meeting outlined regulatory capture, critical harm to be caused by improper placing of turbines, gross misrepresentation of the benefits of the project, a watering down of impacts by “industry consultants,” and a complex and eloquent array of objections that in my mind, could never be overcome.
Combined with the hundreds if not thousands of pages of letters to BOEM, DOE, documents on fishing, impacts to squid, and possible dangers to fishermen who may require rescue near turbines, as well as navigational obstructions, and dangers, it is as eloquent and clear view of offshore impacts to fishing and fishermen as one could hope for.
Excerpts from Radio Broadcaster, All Things Considered in ‘How Offshore Wind Industry May Affect Fishing Industry,’ a three-minute listen, is illustrative:
DAVID BERNHARDT: In the West, we do wind, all right? You know where we don’t put a windmill? You know where we don’t put one? – in the middle of a highway.
EVANS-BROWN: He’s saying there’s too much fishing boat traffic in this area. The fishing industry wants 4-mile-wide transit lanes through the wind farms. But seven wind farm developers have jointly agreed to lay out all of their projects with one mile in between each turbine in every direction. The CEO of Vineyard Wind, Lars Pedersen, says a Coast Guard study backed their proposal.
LARS PEDERSEN: The grid-like layout would create in itself 200 transit lanes through the area. And if you started implementing dedicated transit lanes, that would create a funneling effect that would increase density of fishing vessels in smaller areas and actually increase the risk of collision.
EVANS-BROWN: The fishing industry has demanded a correction of that study, saying it used a bad data source for navigational data. They still see the wind industry as an existential threat. There is a fishing industry that is already living with offshore wind – in Europe. Andrew Gill of Cranfield University says European turbines are much closer together. And while some boats are allowed to fish in between them, not many do.
ANDREW GILL: There’s been a reticence to do it, which is really down to uncertainty and lack of knowledge of sort of, you know, is it safe to go in there? What’s on the books on the seabed under there? How am I going to lose my gear? What happens if I collide with a turbine? Whose fault is it?
Bonnie Brady (Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association,] says placing wind turbines in the middle of “traditional, historically productive fishing grounds” is a “recipe for disaster.” It is crucial to note the scope of the proposed developments near Nantucket and beyond. BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) “now has 15 active wind leases, for nearly two million acres.”
There is no doubt that international contractors are plundering the USA taxpayers through subsidies, grants, loan guarantees, and tax preferment. It is only logical that these incongruous offshore mega wind projects face an uphill and deeply contentious battle.
Don’t be sidetracked with developers’ claims, replete with incorrect, misleading environmental packages and assertions about CO2, climate, and jobs, activists continue to push facts aggressively and intelligently over fantasy. True environmental protection must win over subsidy gouging and eco-predation.
It will be an ongoing battle, but it is obvious that the present and future road for offshore international developers in the US is increasingly troubled. Activists are apparently not hindered by the “weight of time” in their protection of natural resources, wildlife, fishing, and historic seaside/lakeside communities. (The Icebreaker/LEEDCo fight is well into 11 years, Vineyard Wind, adding to Cape Wind, over 20 years.)
Appendix: Bad Offshore Economics
Offshore wind costs roughly double of land based turbines, maintenance costs are staggering, older fleets suffer the impacts of salt and natural weather impacts, cable problems continue to plague the industry, and there are ubiquitous lawsuits from disgruntled residents of many countries. So much for the glamor.
Paul Driessen and Mark Duchamp in Master Resource additionally explored the harm of offshore wind: (Whales, An Offshore Wind Issue)
Between January 9 and February 4, 2016, twenty-nine sperm whales got stranded and died on English, German and Dutch beaches. Environmentalists and the news media have offered all manner of explanations – except the most obvious and likely one: Offshore wind farms. Indeed, the area has Europe’s and the world’s biggest concentration of offshore wind turbines, and there is ample evidence that they can interfere with whale communication and navigation.
The harm to wildlife from industrial wind everywhere is documented, but unfathomable in scope. Now the inevitable disruption to historic and life-giving fishing grounds also cannot be tallied. Are we willing yet with offshore turbines to risk even more carnage to ocean creatures and human sustenance, oceans of majesty and mystery, a universe of life uniquely complex, and supremely in danger, again? And again?