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Dark Clouds over U.S. Offshore Wind

"Make America great again" was Donald Trump's motto to boost major energy and infrastructure projects in the U.S. Even though he isn't a friend of wind industry, the president won't like what's going on in Massachusetts at the moment, as the latest news endanger plans for large investments in the domestic economy and thus the creation of jobs.

Image: PixabayImage: Pixabay

Just two weeks ago it looked as if offshore wind industry could finally celebrate a breakthrough in the U.S. The state of New York granted licenses for two huge offshore projects that will supply more than a million people with green electricity in the future. But in the meantime, disillusionment has returned. Another planned offshore wind farm is currently dominating the headlines, but not in a positive way.

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid, should actually be constructed 23 kilometers off the coast of Massachusetts this year. By 2021, more than 400,000 households should have been supplied with green electricity, but the project has now come to a standstill. Reason: disputes about environmental reports within various authorities.

The delays are a setback for Trump's efforts to accelerate major energy infrastructure projects. An environmental study, which is crucial for the approval of the wind farm, has been repeatedly delayed since April, leading to the project's profitability being at risk.

Reuters has gained insight into previously unpublished documents showing that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has been refusing to sign the wind farm blueprint and environmental report submitted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) since April. NMFS, the responsible lobby for the US fishing industry, would like to have a different design for the wind farm, including a different arrangement of the turbines, as the local fishermen are afraid for their livelihood. According to the documents, a new, detailed investigation of the plan, which is not yet available, is therefore necessary.

Meanwhile, the BOEM argues that the concerns of the fishing industry risk a failure of the project as new investigations lead to massive project delays. This in turn is out of all proportion to the advantages of the wind farm.

Even three months later, the two authorities haven't reached an agreement. "At this time, we are not yet able to come to a point of concurrence," a spokesman for the NMFS said in response to a press enquiry. Since Vineyard Wind (see map on the right, source: Vineyard Wind) is the first project to be subject to the federal environmental assessment procedure, the authority "...wants to ensure that impacts to ocean resources are fully addressed."

An authority farce in which the long-established fishing industry puts obstacles in the way of the emerging offshore wind industry. Meanwhile, the project is running out of time: Vineyard Wind has now stated that it would be "very difficult" to continue with the project in its current configuration if the environmental permit won't be granted within four to six weeks.

The company wants to start construction as soon as possible in order to receive a federal tax credit, expiring next year. The credit is currently 12% of the project's value. In addition, contracts already concluded with various suppliers come under deadline pressure. There's time until the end of August to persuade the authorities to give in.

Katrin Radtke
USA, offshore, wind energy, Vineyard Wind, permit, environmental, Donald Trump, jobs, investments, deadline, fisher, authorities

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