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South Fork Wind Farm delayed until 2023

Offshore wind farm at Block Island, shown in

Offshore wind farm at Block Island, shown in 2016. Credit: Newsday /Mark Harrington

Developers of the South Fork Wind Farm say the project isn’t expected to be operational until the end of 2023, a "significant" delay that is a year from LIPA’s contractual start date.

In a conference call Wednesday, the company cited the expectation that federal permitting delays that have stalled projects across the northeast will continue into 2021. Developer Orsted said federal regulators overseeing the project also have yet to confirm the company’s plan to farther space out turbines for the project at one nautical mile apart, in part to accommodate fishing and shipping interests.

The $2 billion-plus project, rated at 130 megawatts, is proposed for federal waters off Massachusetts/Rhode Island.

Federal regulators are expected to provide needed permitting approvals by October 2021, according to Orsted.

"Given the updated permitting schedule, we now expect South Fork Wind to be in operations by the end of 2023 rather than 2022 as initially expected," spokeswoman Meaghan Wims said in a statement.

In an interview last week, David Hardy, the newly-appointed chief executive of Orsted North America, said the estimated 30 gigawatts of demand for offshore wind in the United States through 2035 will require more lease areas to be identified and auctioned by the federal government, a process that has ground to a halt in recent years. Developers have been pressing the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to finalize the process for more lease areas off New York.

Currently, Equinor holds the single lease area in the region now, with 80,000 acres just south of Jones Beach.

"You now have 30 gigawatts of demand/commitment to states to 2035 [but] you don’t have the lease areas to support that for sure," Hardy said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, last year undertook a supplemental review of the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts that has also delayed other projects in the pipeline, including South Fork Wind.

"These BOEM delays are having an impact and we can’t completely overcome that," Hardy said.

Hardy said work continues in preparation for the projects, including several new proposals from Orsted and its partner Eversource for projects to feed 2,500 megawatts of power for New York.

For now, he said, project operators are developing their own transmission cables from wind farms to their destination, with some requiring undersea cables of 50 miles or more. But that could change in the future, Hardy said.

"There’s a lot of discussion right now about shared offshore transmission … We are going to need a more sophisticated way to connect these projects" into regional grids, Hardy said.

The approach could help alleviate future problems such as one now dogging the South Fork project at its proposed connecting point on a beach in Wainscott, where residents in and around Beach Lane staunchly oppose it and are threatening legal action and even incorporation of a new village.

Fishermen also continue to generally oppose projects on their traditional fishing grounds.

Hardy said the one nautical mile spacing was an accommodation for fishermen.

"What we’re trying to do is find the balance and to work together in this ocean," Hardy said, adding the company was "just beginning to get pen to paper" on compensation plans for fishermen disrupted by construction and other elements of the projects.

"We are going to try to work this out with them," he said. "We’re not trying to hurt anybody."

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