The United States’ first major offshore wind energy project is running into delays as federal agencies internally debate whether the project plan adequately protects the fishing industry.
Vineyard Wind—an approximately 800 megawatt, 84-turbine wind energy project to be located roughly 15 miles off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts—is scheduled to begin construction this year and would have the capacity to power over 400,000 homes by 2021.
According to news reports, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in April stating that it could not support the environmental permit for the project because it failed to fully address the concerns of the fishing industry. In particular, the letter highlighted requests of the fishing industry that were not addressed in the project design, including modifications to turbine orientation and spacing.
In response, BOEM stated that the fishing industry’s concerns did not rise to a level that would justify extensive project delays or that could lead to an ultimate project failure, and it was ready to move forward with the project as planned without the support of NOAA by simply documenting NOAA’s non-concurrence in the final environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision (ROD). BOEM noted, however, that it needs NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to co-sign the ROD for the permit to be issued.
The final EIS and ROD were originally expected in April 2019, but were delayed to June and then July. The agencies have still not resolved their difference, and it is now unclear when the documents will be finalized. The developer reportedly told BOEM in mid-July that “it would be very challenging” to move ahead with the project in its current configuration if the EIS is not issued within approximately four to six weeks.
Because Vineyard Wind is the first large-scale offshore wind development in the United States, it will set the stage for other similar projects in the queue. How the agencies resolve the degree to which the project plan must address the fishing industry’s concerns may shape the planning and permitting for future offshore wind energy projects.