Big win for US offshore wind: Biden administration approves $2B Vineyard project

The bureaucratic breakthrough signals renewed federal support for up to 30 GW of East Coast offshore wind by 2030.

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After years of delays and uncertainty under the Trump administration, America’s first large-scale offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind, has been approved by the Biden administration, which sees the project as the first step in its plan to build 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power over the next decade.

Tuesday’s decision from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management clears the path for developers to begin installing the 84 wind turbines that will deliver 800 megawatts of energy to Massachusetts when connected by the end of 2023.

Beyond cutting carbon emissions, the roughly $2 billion project is expected to deliver about $3.7 billion in energy-related cost savings and support about 3,600 jobs over its lifetime. That’s a snapshot of the benefits that the Biden administration hopes to scale up with its pledge to invest $3 billion to back a target of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

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The approval of this project is an important step toward advancing the administration’s goals to create good-paying union jobs while combatting climate change and powering our nation,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a prepared statement.

The Vineyard project, a joint venture of Iberdrola’s Avangrid utility and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, has had a contentious relationship with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) over the past few years. In 2019, the Interior Department agency moved to extend its timeline to complete a review of the project’s supplemental environmental impact statement, forcing the developers to push back their completion date from 2022 to 2023.

Supporters including U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) accused the Trump administration of using concerns about the project’s impacts on the ocean environment and fishing operations as a pretext for blocking a renewable energy project that could compete with fossil-fuel-fired power.

The change in federal administrations has shifted the winds of fortune in favor of offshore wind, with the BOEM playing a key role in permitting projects set to be built under state mandates stretching from Massachusetts to North Carolina

The U.S. offshore wind industry lags behind Europe’s, which now has about 25 gigawatts of capacity installed, with the European Commission targeting 60 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2030. The only two U.S. offshore wind projects that have been built to date are Deepwater Wind’s 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm off the Rhode Island coast and Dominion Energy’s 12-megawatt Coastal Virginia pilot project.

But plans are in place for a major buildout of offshore wind capacity, which will require extensive undersea transmission grid infrastructure — and onshore manufacturing, assembly and port facilities to support it.

Massachusetts has proposed targets of up to 3.2 GW of offshore wind by 2026 and another 2.8 GW by 2035, with Vineyard Wind the first slated to be connected. Contracts for another 804 MW have been awarded to Mayflower Wind, a developer owned by Shell and EDPR Offshore North America.

New York has a state target of 9 GW of offshore wind by 2035. In 2019 it awarded 1.7 gigawatts’ worth of contracts split between Norway’s Equinor and Denmark’s Ørsted and its utility partner Eversource Energy. In January 2021, the state awarded an additional 2.5 gigawatts’ worth of contracts to developers Equinor and BP.

New Jersey has set offshore wind targets of 3 GW by 2030 and 7.5 GW by 2035, and it awarded its first contract for Ørsted’s 1.1 GW Ocean Wind project in 2019. In late 2020 it received bids from Ørsted and Atlantic Shores, the 50-50 joint venture between EDF Renewables North America and Shell New Energies US, for up to 2.4 GW of projects.

The Biden administration’s plan also designates a new high-priority Wind Energy Area” in the New York Bight coastal area located between Long Island and New Jersey.

Avangrid Renewables is planning the 804 MW Park City project off the Connecticut coast and the 800 MW Kitty Hawk project off the North Carolina coast. And Dominion Energy, the only vertically integrated U.S. utility currently building offshore wind, wants to install 2.6 GW by 2026 off the Virginia coast.

Today’s…decision is not about the start of a single project, but the launch of a new industry,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in a prepared statement. Receiving this final major federal approval means the jobs, economic benefits and clean energy revolution associated with the Vineyard Wind I project can finally come to fruition.”

(Lead photo: Nicholas Doherty) 

Jeff St. John is director of news and special projects at Canary Media.