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Federal Regulators Take the Wind Out of Offshore Turbine Project

After developers of the wind farm asked for a temporary pause, the Interior Department put a halt to it.

Blowback from federal officials could mean a long-term delay for what is meant to be the largest offshore wind farm project in the United States.

After Massachusetts-based Vineyard Wind asked the Interior Department for a temporary pause in the federal permitting process, which can take years to complete, the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management terminated the project. Now that the 800-megawatt wind farm is no longer under review, the developer will have to submit a new application. That will kick-start an environmental review that could take up to 18 months, according to various reports.

The BOEM began its review process for the Vineyard Wind project in December 2017. In the Dec. 16, 2020 Federal Register, the agency said that preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement by Vineyard Wind “is no longer necessary and the process is hereby terminated.”

Vineyard Wind had announced on Dec. 1 that it would use the GE Renewable Energy Haliade-X for the project, a massive turbine that is setting records for energy production.

“The selection of GE as our preferred turbine supplier means that a historic American company will play a vital role in the development of the first commercial scale offshore wind power in the U.S.,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars T. Pedersen said in a statement.

After BOEM received the company’s request for a temporary pause, Pedersen issued another statement, explaining: “The short pause is to allow the project team to conduct a final technical review associated with the inclusion of GE’s 13 MW Haliade-X into the final project design.

“Over the past three years, this project has been through an extremely rigorous process, and we believe the agency can promptly restart the process.  As we’ve said at the time we made this initial decision, a short delay now still allows us to deliver the project on the appropriate timeline, with financial close in the second half of 2021 and power coming onto the grid in 2023.”

The delay comes as offshore wind technology is advancing to produce larger amounts of power.  Across the globe, engineers are designing wind power infrastructure to help countries and states meet aggressive net-zero climate targets.

A coal truck makes it’s way up U.S. Highway 6 as several 2.1 mega watt wind powered turbines owned by Edison Mission Energy, sit a the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon November 24, 2008 in Spanish Fork, Utah. Each turbine is 300 feet tall, with three 150 foot blades. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, Michael D. Olsen, said the potential for production of wind energy on public lands in the West is “tremendous,” with the alternative energy source already accounting for the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. Last year the U.S. saw a 46 percent increase in wind capacity and $9 billion in new investments, he said. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Offshore wind power wind is particularly useful in areas that have limited open land for photovoltaic solar panels, such as the northeast United States and the United Kingdom, Mike Crawley, CEO of Northland Power, said during the recent Reuters Events: Future of Renewables conference.

But meeting demand for offshore wind power requires increasingly bigger and more advanced infrastructure, including turbines, ships for offshore installation and a more advanced grid to transport the energy.

GE Renewable Energy’s Haliade-X, the world’s largest wind turbine, can generate 13 megawatts per hour. The structure is 260 meters (853 feet) tall, with blades that measure 107 meters (351 feet), overshadowing the 555-foot Washington Monument and standing just shy of the 1,063-foot Eiffel Tower.

In November, a Halliade-X turbine in Rotterdam, Netherlands, generated a record 312 megawatts of electricity in 24 hours, GE Renewable Energy tweeted. GE said that the turbine’s production was so great that one spin of the blade would generate enough electricity to power a household in the UK for two days.

The Union of Concerned Scientists posted a blog by senior energy analyst John Rogers pointing out the benefits of higher-power turbines, such as the need for fewer turbines, fewer installations, and a smaller footprint.

Meanwhile, equipment needed to build the giant offshore infrastructure is under development.

Virginia-based Dominion Energy has contracted a Texas ship builder to construct a boat specially designed to install offshore wind turbines. While other ships with this construction capacity have been built overseas, this ship will be compliant with the Jones Act, a U.S. law that requires commerce between ports to be conducted with ships that are built and owned by U.S. citizens.

In 2019, offshore wind capacity grew by 19 percent around the globe. With only one operating offshore wind farm in the U.S., the country’s offshore wind project pipeline “grew 10 percent by the end of 2019, while the amount of U.S. offshore wind capacity under federal and state permitting with a signed offtake agreement was 6,439 MW — a threefold increase from the previous year,” according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Nine, 2.1 mega watt wind powered turbines owned by Edison Mission Energy, sit a the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon November 24, 2008 in Spanish Fork, Utah. Each turbine is 300 feet tall, with three 150 foot blades. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, Michael D. Olsen, said the potential for production of wind energy on public lands in the West is “tremendous,” with the alternative energy source already accounting for the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. Last year the U.S. saw a 46 percent increase in wind capacity and $9 billion in new investments, he said. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

An offtake agreement is one between the project company and the party buying the energy that the project will produce and deliver over time.

“It’s stunning how fast state commitments have grown,” said Walt Musial, principal engineer and the manager of Offshore Wind at NREL. “These numbers show that the industry is progressing toward real projects that are likely to get built.”

(Edited by Judith Isacoff and Bryan Wilkes)