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Vineyard Wind wants federal review within 6 weeks

Source: 
Cape Cod Times

Jul. 18--NEW BEDFORD -- Vineyard Wind has given the federal agency in charge of permits for its offshore wind farm up to six weeks to issue a key environmental review document, after the agency announced last week it would not meet a summer deadline.

"Through all of our communications with government officials, it has been made clear to us that there was no intention to prevent the Vineyard Wind 1 project from moving forward," the New Bedford-based company said in a statement Thursday.

The company has told the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, though, that for a variety of reasons "it would be very challenging" to move ahead with the 84-turbine project south of the Islands in its current configuration if the final environmental impact statement is not issued within approximately four to six weeks.

The final impact statement is a review of the $2 billion construction of the offshore wind farm and its operation. The statement is a key document but one of a half-dozen federal reviews underway for the project.

In its statement, Vineyard Wind said the federal agency indicated that it understood the reasons for the company's constraints and that it intended to communicate that to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. Vineyard Wind said it has communicated directly with Bernhardt as well about its concerns regarding the delay.

"Vineyard Wind notes that it is not unusual for there to be ongoing review of an environmental impact statement as it makes its way through the internal approval process, especially for a project of this significance," the company said in the statement. "The National Environmental Policy Act requires an environmental impact statement to consider all best available information, which we believe BOEM has done. We are therefore confident that any remaining reviews can be concluded and an FEIS released soon after."

The timing of the project matters because Vineyard Wind has said it intends to start its project by the end of the year.

Company executives expressed optimism in September after a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report indicated that the federal ocean energy management bureau would approve projects such as Vineyard Wind in a timely manner. The report said timing of permits affects whether offshore wind developers can take advantage of federal investment tax credits that are expected to expire in 2024.

When Vineyard Wind won the bid in May 2018 to sell 800 megawatts of power to three Massachusetts electricity distributors, the company's competitive pricing took into account both the federal investment tax credits and a long-term power purchase agreement, Lars Pedersen, the company's chief executive, said.

As of Thursday morning, the federal ocean energy management bureau had not yet posted an updated timeline for permits for Vineyard Wind. The bureau is the lead government group under a presidential executive order from 2017 that requires timely decisions on major infrastructure projects, where environmental reviews and authorization decisions are to be completed within two years. From the bureau original timetable, the project began just before January 2018.

In response to Vineyard Wind's statement on Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker urged the company to continue its work with the federal regulators.

"The Baker-Polito administration is committed to advancing Massachusetts as a national leader in developing offshore wind energy, and the administration expects Vineyard Wind to continue their work with federal regulators to move this important project forward," Peter Lorenz, spokesman with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said.

Locally, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod said it considers the deployment of utility scale alternative energy projects to be "critically necessary if society is to begin to take the steps required to prevent devastating additional warming of the atmosphere."

"Vineyard Wind is an important project, and one that has been well-thought-out and developed, and no further delay in permitting is warranted or wise," association Executive Director Andrew Gottlieb said. "Every project has impacts. This one has been designed to minimize its impacts and is far better than what will happen if we do not get off carbon-based fuels."

On July 10, the company had announced that the federal bureau was still not prepared to issue the final environmental impact statement. The federal agency initially was expected to issue the final statement June 7 but said then that another month was needed to study the public comments on the draft version. The federal agency, through a spokesman, has continued to emphasize that it was still within the two-year review window.

Vineyard Wind has largely completed the state and local reviews to allow it to land its cables and build a new substation in Barnstable to connect to the regional power grid. But a snag emerged last week when the Edgartown Conservation Commission declined a permit for the submerged cables that are to pass about a mile east of that town. The company said it was appealing the commission's decision to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

-- Follow Mary Ann Bragg on Twitter: @maryannbraggCCT.

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(c)2019 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

Visit Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. at www.capecodtimes.com

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