Northeast
Bloomberg

Federal delay sends chill through offshore-wind industry

In recent days the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, a subsidiary of the Department of the Interior, delayed an 800-megawatt wind project off the coast of Massachusetts indefinitely.

Yesterday President Donald Trump’s administration weakened the Endangered Species Act.

And more than a year ago it scuttled a financing arrangement for the Gateway tunnel, a critical upgrade to the region’s transit system.  

Now major offshore-wind developers are concerned that the president could take aim at their fast-growing industry next—affecting two major projects recently announced in New York.

In recent days the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, a subsidiary of the Department of the Interior, delayed an 800-megawatt wind project off the coast of Massachusetts indefinitely. The setback came after the agency mandated that the project’s developer, Europe-based wind company Vineyard Wind, complete an expanded environmental review that asks it to contemplate the environmental impacts of not just its own project but other wind projects as well.

“This is not part of the original process that BOEM had put forward,” said Liz Burdock, president and CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “Right now we don’t have any other data points, so we don’t know what this means.”

A spokesman for BOEM said the agency is seeking a revised EIS because it “has determined that a greater build-out of offshore-wind capacity is more reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed” previously. Thousands of megawatts of offshore-wind projects have been envisioned by several states, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The setback has left some industry experts wondering whether the federal agency will heap more obstacles in the way of other wind projects, possibly at the behest of fossil fuel interests that support Trump.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced two power purchase agreements with wind-development companies Orsted and Equinor, which each will build offshore-wind farms that together will produce about 1,700 megawatts. The award was the first of what Cuomo has promised will be 9,000 megawatts of wind power in the state by 2035.  

Trump on numerous occasions has criticized wind energy, pointing out that spinning wind turbines kill birds. Turbine blades do cause between 214,000 and 368,000 bird deaths per year, according to a federal report. But that is far fewer than the 6.8 million avian deaths in collisions with cell and radio towers and the 1.4 billion to 3.7 billion bird deaths annually caused by cats.

“The president has said negative things about wind generally,” Joe Martens, executive director of the New York Offshore Wind Alliance, said. “The attitude from people in the wind industry is that this is all cause for concern. There is worry that this could be a stop sign from the Trump administration.”

State officials sought to quell fears from the industry.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and at this time do not have any reason to believe that this decision will delay development of New York’s recently awarded offshore-wind projects,” a spokeswoman from the New York state Energy Research and Development Authority said in a statement.

Burdock said she doubted that delays could derail the pipeline of wind development planned along the eastern seaboard but worried that federal hurdles could prompt wind builders to locate turbine manufacturing and logistics facilities offshore in Europe or Asia, erasing many of the local jobs the industry is expected to create.

"The developers are invested in the U.S., but what I am concerned about is that manufacturers looking to come here and make investments reconsider that decision," Burdock said.

See Crain's New York Business article . . .

See also U.S. Coast Guard Updates its Offshore Wind Farm Approval Guidance . . .