Offshore wind power project moves ahead under Biden administration

Plans for a new wind energy industry in waters off the US east coast have taken a significant step forward after the Biden administration finished a long-awaited environmental study of the first project to be proposed at commercial scale.

Vineyard Wind’s 62 turbines would stand 15 miles south of the island of Martha’s Vineyard and sell electricity to utilities in Massachusetts.

The project could kick off a US building boom for a renewable energy technology already established in Europe. Offshore wind has the strong support of President Joe Biden, who has pledged to remove carbon emissions from the US electricity sector by 2035.

The Trump administration’s review of Vineyard Wind took years and was further postponed in 2020 when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management required a separate analysis of the cumulative impact of all offshore projects.

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In December, the developers of Vineyard Wind withdrew their application, citing the need to incorporate massive new turbines to be supplied by General Electric. The move also had the effect of punting regulatory review to the Biden administration. The developers resubmitted the application in January, two days after Biden’s inauguration, and the review resumed. 

The US interior department on Monday said it completed the environmental analysis for the first phase of Vineyard Wind. It raised no significant problems that would preclude final approval by federal agencies.

The action “represents major progress in the Biden-Harris administration’s goal to accelerate responsible development of renewable energy on public lands and waters as a key component of tackling the climate crisis and creating jobs,” the department said. 

A joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid, a US subsidiary of Spain’s Iberdrola, the $3bn Vineyard Wind would have generating capacity of 800 megawatts of power. New US offshore wind power capacity is likely to surpass 30,000MW by 2029, totalling investment of about $85bn, said Dan Shreve, director of the energy transition practice at Wood Mackenzie, a consultancy.

By comparison, wind farms operating on land have about 124,000MW of installed capacity in the US, he said.

Offshore projects are advancing thanks to a combination of falling technology costs, federal tax credits and state clean-energy standards that set out goals for offshore wind energy production. 

New York state has pledged to have 9,000MW of offshore wind capacity by 2035 and in January awarded contracts to two projects jointly led by BP and Norway’s Equinor. New Jersey has a goal of 7,500MW by 2035 and awarded a contract to Ocean Wind, a 1,100MW project from Orsted of Denmark. 

“The progress made in the Vineyard Wind permitting process is critical for the project developers and for the offshore wind industry as a whole,” said Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group that represents offshore wind, oil and gas companies. 

Vineyard Wind’s sponsors said they expect to close financing for the project in second half of this year and begin producing electricity in 2023.

Climate Capital

Where climate change meets business, markets and politics. Explore the FT’s coverage here 

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