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Nation's first large-scale offshore wind project seen as key to clean energy gets OK

Deepwater Wind's turbines in the water off Block

Deepwater Wind's turbines in the water off Block Island, R.I. An offshore wind project off the island of Martha's Vineyard was approved by the federal government Tuesday. Credit: AP/Michael Dwyer

Proponents of an offshore wind farm for the South Fork are hopeful that the Biden administration’s approval Tuesday of the nation’s first large-scale project off the Massachusetts coast will expedite projects set to serve New York and Long Island.

What to know

  • The Biden administration has approved the $2.8-billion wind-farm project 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
  • Wind proponents see it as a crucial next step in jump-starting the U.S. offshore wind industry.
  • LIPA’s 130-megawatt South Fork Wind project could be among the next projects up for approval. 
  • Commercial fishing groups condemned the Vineyard Wind approval, saying it was done largely without them.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Tuesday approved a long-awaited construction and operation plan for Vineyard Wind, an 800-megawatt array 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard near Cape Cod. A spokesman for the $2.8-billion project said land-based construction is now scheduled to begin later this year, with assembly of the turbines and offshore construction to start next year. The 84-turbine array, enough to power some 400,000 homes and create 3,600 jobs, the company said, will begin producing partial power by the end of 2023, with a fully operational date expected in 2024. The project still awaits several federal permits, all expected in the next few months, said spokesman Andrew Doba.

LIPA's project next up for approval

Meanwhile, the South Fork Wind Farm, a 15-turbine 130-megawatt project contracted to LIPA that is also to be built off the Massachusetts coast, is among the next projects up for approval from the federal agency.

"I’d say this is a good sign not only for the South Fork Wind Farm but a host of projects that have been in the federal cue for a while," said Joe Martens, director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, an industry group. The Trump administration had been accused by lawmakers of intentionally delaying offshore-wind approvals and timelines because of the former president’s opposition to wind energy.

Orsted and Eversource, partners in the South Fork project, which was originally scheduled to be in service by the end of 2022, said Tuesday the project could be in service by the end of 2023. That’s the same pushed-back date as Newsday reported in October. The companies, in a statement, "applauded" the Biden administration’s "major steps to realize the potential of offshore wind energy." LIPA didn’t immediately provide a comment.

Fishing groups oppose Vineyard project

A coalition of primarily commercial fishing groups, which generally oppose the 800-foot towers and 100-mile long cables into their long-held fishing grounds, on Tuesday, said it "condemns in the strongest possible terms" the Vineyard Wind approval. The group, known as the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, accused the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management of "abdicat[ing] its responsibility to the public" while leaving decision making on placement of ocean turbines to "large, multinational corporations." It said the approval included "effectively no mitigation measures to offset impacts to critical ocean ecosystems and commercial fisheries."

A BOEM spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Clean energy, jobs anticipated

The approval of the project came after decades of debate about the sustainability of U.S. offshore wind. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said the project will create thousands of jobs and is a step toward President Joe Biden's plan for 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

"It will create jobs that will support families, boost local economies and address climate injustice," Haaland said. "More importantly, it will create a new generation of clean energy jobs and leave a livable planet for future generations."

Vineyard Wind follows the scrapped Cape Wind project, which failed after opposition from some high-profile liberals and conservatives alike. Supporters of Vineyard Wind have said the newer project is better sited than Cape Wind, which would've been closer to shore, and that it's more in tune with today's political climate.

'Launch of a new industry'

Vineyard Wind is a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Vineyard Wind CEO Lars T. Pedersen called the approval "not about the start of a single project, but the launch of a new industry." He also said the approval "means the jobs, economic benefits and clean energy revolution" associated with the project can come to fruition.

Environmental groups and clean power advocates trumpeted Tuesday's approval. Heather Zichal, chief executive officer of the American Clean Power Association, called it a "historic day for clean energy and for our country" and a sign that renewable energy is on the rise in the U.S.

"Now is the time to push forward on offshore wind, catch up to global competitors, and decarbonize our electric grid, so that the U.S. can deliver economic and environmental benefits to our citizens and combat climate change," Zichal said.

With AP

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