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Vineyard Wind Receives 'Historic' Final Approval

Vineyard Wind

Vineyard Wind’s first-of-its-kind offshore wind farm has received final approval from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced today that it has approved construction and operation of Vineyard Wind 1, the nation’s inaugural large-scale offshore wind project.

It will be located about 15 miles off Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The approval document, called the Record of Decision, allows up to 84 turbines, but with current technology, Vineyard Wind needs no more than 62 turbines to fulfill its Massachusetts contract for 800 megawatts of generating capacity.

Those turbines can supply enough electricity for 400,000 homes. Power will be distributed by National Grid, Eversource, and Unitil.

The Baker administration and the state’s electric utilities selected Vineyard Wind in May of 2018 to enter into the first Massachusetts contracts for commercial offshore wind power.

The Trump administration delayed the project for more than a year, and it has faced opposition from some fishermen, who say turbines in the Atlantic Ocean will hurt commercial fisheries.

Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said he looks forward to wrapping up the financing for the project sometime in the second half of 2021 and beginning on-shore installation of power cables shortly thereafter.

The power transmission cable for the wind farm will come to shore in Barnstable.

"It's been a long road," Pederson said. "We're at the end of one phase of this project – the development and the permitting – and we're really looking forward now to moving into the phase where we can actually start building the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the U.S."

New Bedford: "At the tip of the spear."

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the federal approval marks the arrival of the American offshore wind industry.

"It's really exciting," Mitchell said. "It's a long time in coming. I think about the trade missions that we took to Europe, all the waterfront planning we've done over the years, all the investments, leading to something that was somewhat abstract in most people's minds. And now it's becoming very real."

Mitchell pointed out that other large-scale wind farms for the East Coast are in the process of seeking federal approval.

"They will be a big pillar in America's clean energy future," Mitchell said. "And we in New Bedford are proud to be at the tip of the spear in that effort. And we look forward to the opportunities that will accrue from it."

Vineyard Wind is building a maintenance facility on Martha's Vineyard, and the turbines will be assembled in New Bedford from components made overseas.

Vineyard Wind 1 is expected to start operating in 2023.

"A Historic Day"

Katie Theoharides, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, reinforced the message that Vineyard Wind and other projects in the permitting pipeline are critical to the state’s goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

"Today's a historic day for climate change and for the offshore wind industry, not just here in Massachusetts, where we're helping to launch the first offshore wind farm in the country of utility scale, but also all across America," Theoharides said.

Theoharides said the project has been through a rigorous review to minimize any effect on fisheries or wildlife.

"This is really the beginning of this industry, not just here in the country, but in the Commonwealth, as we continue to pursue our net-zero emissions by 2050 climate goals," said Theoharides.

But while supporters are cheering the benefits of the project, a coalition of fishing interests, called the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), says the decision contains no mandatory offsets against harm to commercial fishing. In an emailed statement, RODA said it condemns the approval in the strongest possible terms, and that steps to counter any harm to fisheries are not meaningful or mandatory

Vineyard Wind CEO Pedersen rebutted that claim, and said the company has made its own commitment to help.

"I think it's worth noting that we have made very significant funds available for fishermen in case there should be any loss of revenue," said Pedersen. "We hope that we can coexist. We believe it can be done."

Pedersen says the money could be used for things like updating fishing gear to help vessels work around the turbines.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.