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First Major US Offshore Wind Project Gets a Green Light

Biden administration officials announced final approval Tuesday for what will become the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the country.

WASHINGTON (CN) —  Marking a big step in the Biden administration’s clean energy goals, federal officials on Tuesday announced the approval of a large wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo shared the news about the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind Project in a press conference, standing alongside the labor leaders whose unions will ensure the project is properly built and maintained. Haaland said in a statement the deal signifies progress toward a future with clean energy.

“The approval of this project is an important step toward advancing the administration's goals to create good-paying union jobs while combating climate change and powering our nation,” said Haaland.

Raimondo added that the project is an example of the kind of investments needed to meet the Biden-Harris administration’s climate goals. The administration has a goal of deploying 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind in the U.S. by 2030.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also endorsed the major wind project.

But the move is not without controversy, with the fishing industry in particular voicing condemnation.

“To the best of our knowledge, BOEM did not even consider any mitigation measures recommended by RODA or any fisheries professionals, scientists, or natural resource managers, despite having clearly defined requests available to them,” a group called the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance said in a statement Tuesday, using abbreviations for its own name and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The alliance has labeled the Vineyard Wind project as one “which includes effectively no mitigation measures to offset impacts to critical ocean ecosystems and commercial fisheries.” It also says it is still waiting on a response to the 12 fishing-industry mitigation measures it proposed in a letter signed by nearly 1,700 members of either the fishing industry or community around Martha's Vineyard. 

“These reasonable requests included supporting the continuation of federal fisheries surveys, safe vessel transit, long-term biological and environmental monitoring plans, avoidance of sensitive habitat, improved communication with ocean users, collaborative framing of compensatory mitigation and gear loss plans, commitment to addressing radar and icing concerns, and prioritization of U.S. jobs,” the coalition says.

Biden administration officials have previously promised to fast-track track permitting for wind projects off the Atlantic Coast, while providing $1 million in grants to study the impacts of wind projects on fisheries and communities. Additionally, the Energy Department plans to allocate $3 billion toward offshore wind growth through its loan guarantee program. 

(Map courtesy of Vineyard Wind via Courthouse News)

Tuesday’s Record of Decision gives Vineyard Wind final federal approval to build as many as 84 turbines off Massachusetts — all in an east-west orientation with a minimum spacing of 1 nautical mile between per U.S. Coast Guard recommendations.

The White House said Tuesday that the plan adopted mitigation measures “to help avoid, minimize, reduce, or eliminate adverse environmental effects that could result from the construction and operation of the proposed project.”

Estimated to create 3,600 jobs, the project is the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the country — a joint venture between sustainable energy company Avangrid Renewables and the investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. It will be built roughly 12 miles offshore Martha’s Vineyard and 12 miles offshore Nantucket.

Regarding the federal government’s approval as a major milestone, Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a statement Tuesday that the decision “is not about the start of a single project, but the launch of a new industry.” Vineyard Wind hopes to provide enough energy for 400,000 homes and businesses.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker also expressed excitement about the project Tuesday, saying it "will produce affordable, renewable energy, create jobs and prove Massachusetts developed a successful model for developing offshore wind energy.” Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Bill Keating expressed similar sentiments.

Before it begins construction, Vineyard Wind must send the government several reports that will detail how the facility will be fabricated and installed in accordance with the federally-approved plan.

The Biden administration hopes the project will set a precedent for offshore wind energy development on the East Coast. In late March, the Biden administration also announced a new wind energy project in the New York Bight and the advancement of important permitting milestones for the Ocean Wind Offshore Wind project in New Jersey.

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