Days after the Trump administration injected a level of uncertainty into the Vineyard Wind project planned off of Martha’s Vineyard, Gov. Charlie Baker said the federal government has given his administration and the company a “fair amount of guidance” about the decision to delay a key permit.
Baker, who met Tuesday afternoon on the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University with Govs. Ned Lamont of Connecticut and Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, also said he did not think federal regulators were trying to send any broader message about their approach to offshore wind development.
The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management notified Vineyard Wind last week that the government was “not yet prepared” to issue a final environmental impact statement for the 800 megawatt wind power project, which the the state is trying to advance in connection with its 2016 clean energy law.
The indefinite delay in the decision, which was expected on July 12, threw a wrench in the project’s tight timeline, which has a construction start date this fall and is scheduled to be operational in 2021.
Baker said he thought the federal government treated offshore wind projects as “standalone, fact specific issues,” rather than trying to send a broader message to the industry by holding up the Vineyard Wind permit.
“There’s no question the fact that the Vineyard Wind one is the biggest project of its kind in U.S. history. It means it’s receiving what I would describe as a significant and probably more significant level of scrutiny, probably appropriately from the federal agencies,” Baker said.
A spokesman for BOEM issued a statement last week published in Commonwealth Magazine in which he said the agency was well within its two-year review window to complete its analysis of the project, which would give the agency until March 30, 2020 to decide on the permit.
“When the work has concluded, BOEM will publish its findings and notify all stakeholders,” said spokesman Steven Boutwell, according to the magazine.
But Baker said Tuesday that his team and project officials have been given a clearer understanding of the issues in play, and are working this month to address them.
“We’ve talked to the federal agencies about this,” Baker said. “They’ve made pretty clear to us that the reason they didn’t render a decision and the reason why they didn’t put a date on rendering a decision was because they wanted to continue the dialogue and the discussion with Vineyard Wind around some of the outstanding issues and they gave Vineyard Wind and us a fair amount of guidance with respect to the things we should focus on and people are going to be focusing on those between now and the end of the month.”
Baker did not elaborate on what those issues were, or say if he expected a decision on the environmental permit soon after the issues were addressed.
“We understand that, as the first commercial scale offshore wind project in the US, the Vineyard Wind project will undergo extraordinary review before receiving approvals. As with any project of this scale and complexity, changes to the schedule are anticipated,” the company said in a statement posted to its website last week.
Vineyard Wind was selected in 2018 by Massachusetts to build an 800-megawatt wind farm in the Atlantic waters off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, beating out competing bids from developers Orsted and Deepwater Wind.
Orsted subsequently acquired Deepwater Wind, which operates the only offshore wind installation in the U.S., a 30-megawatt farm off Block Island, and had power purchase agreements with Connecticut and Rhode Island for energy from its Revolution Wind project.
Under a new law signed by Lamont, Connecticut is also gearing up to purchase 2,000 more megawatts of offshore wind power, and released a draft request for proposals that will be finalized and issued next month.
“I certainly hope the federal government will be there to support this. It’s got strong bipartisan support and it’s absolutely vital to use this homegrown carbon free power,” Lamont said.