The offshore wind industry is beginning to fear that the government shutdown could delay and complicate offshore wind farm development off Martha’s Vineyard and elsewhere in the Northeast, where construction depends on tight Interior Department approval schedules.
As the partial shutdown involving about one-quarter of the government drags into its fourth week, the Interior Department agency that oversees offshore wind leasing and permitting, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is closed.
“There are a number of big, important offshore wind projects moving through the BOEM approval process, and we can’t afford to have them disrupted in terms of their coordination and timing,” Liz Burdock, CEO and president of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, an industry trade group, told Bloomberg Enviornment.
The winners of a Massachusetts offshore wind lease auction are unable to execute their lease agreements with the federal government, which controls the waters where the wind farms will be built, Burdock said.
“We are not able to hold meetings with BOEM because they’re not able to work,” Burdock said. “There’s industry input and government feedback and ongoing dialogue that we’d like to continue that’s stopped.”
A spokesperson for a company holding a federal offshore wind lease said the shutdown could delay offshore wind development in the Northeast.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the company is “terrified” that statements perceived as criticism of the shutdown could lead the Trump administration to retaliate against it.
The company expects to submit its construction and operations plan for its offshore wind lease to BOEM later this year, but a weekslong delay in the agency’s work early in the year could “throw everything off,” the spokesperson said.
Delays because of the shutdown “could throw the entire process for the whole Northeast off,” the spokesperson said. “It’s going to end up with them making up three weeks of work out of nowhere.”
Offshore wind development, touted by the Trump administration as part of its “energy dominance” agenda, is among the largest untapped sources of renewable energy in the U.S.
North America’s only commercial offshore wind farm was completed near Block Island, R.I., in 2016, and serves the island’s 2,000 residents.
Vineyard Wind Delays
Most concerning to the industry are delayed public hearings on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., potentially setting back timing of the project, Burdock said.
Three of the five hearings, scheduled for Jan. 8, 9, 15, 16, and 17, have been delayed so far. All will be delayed if the government doesn’t reopen by Jan. 17.
“We don’t know when they will be rescheduled,” Burdock said. “Vineyard Wind is on a very tight timeline to begin construction this year in order to make the most of federal tax credits, so the clock is ticking and any delay is a real concern.”
Offshore wind developers can take advantage of a federal investment tax credit set to expire this year, Burdock said. Companies beginning construction on large wind turbines in 2019 can receive a tax credit for 12 percent of expenditures.
Vineyard Wind LLC, owned by Avangrid Inc., and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, in 2018 won a contract from Massachusetts to build the $2 billion Vineyard Wind project. The company plans to build up to 100 turbines about 15 miles off the shore of Martha’s Vineyard to produce enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.
Vineyard Wind spokesman Scott Farmelant told Bloomberg Environment that the company continues to work on permitting and the government shutdown is having no impact on the project, other than logistical issues connected to the hearing scheduling.
New York Wind
The shutdown also forced New York State on Jan. 15 to issue revisions to a November solicitation for offshore wind development proposals, said Claudette Thornton, assistant director of communications for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
“The revised solicitation includes adaptations to allow NYSERDA’s solicitation to advance in a competitive and timely manner despite the ongoing delay of BOEM’s offshore wind activities during the shutdown,” Thornton said.
The state announced on Nov. 8 it is seeking bids to develop 800 megawatts of offshore wind power in waters off of Long Island. The bids are due in February.
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