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US agency further extends review of Vineyard offshore wind project

The United States government once again is delaying the issuance of a final environmental impact statement for the country's first commercial-scale offshore wind farm.

Vineyard Wind LLC announced Aug. 9 that the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, has decided to further delay issuing a final EIS for the proposed 800-MW Vineyard Offshore Wind Project off Cape Cod, Mass.

As required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, an environmental impact statement, or EIS, helps inform policymakers and stakeholders of a project's potential environmental consequences.

The BOEM in March 2018 announced its intention to prepare an EIS for the Vineyard Offshore Wind Project, setting off a process that generally takes approximately one year. However, the bureau notified the company July 10 that it was not ready to issue the final EIS for the wind farm.

Now, the BOEM has delayed the issuance again, explaining in a statement that it made the decision after considering requests by stakeholders and cooperating agencies for "a more robust cumulative analysis" and in light of recent state offshore wind procurement announcements.

"Because BOEM has determined that a greater build out of offshore wind capacity is reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed in the initial draft EIS, BOEM has decided to supplement the draft EIS and solicit comments on its revised cumulative impacts analysis," BOEM said.

A BOEM spokesperson said the agency is focused on the supplemental EIS and is not yet ready to set a revised schedule for the final EIS. Under the BOEM's two-year review window, the final EIS approval could be pushed as late as March 2020.

Before the delays, Vineyard Wind's developers had the project on schedule to begin on-shore construction in late 2019 and to become operational by 2021 or 2022.

"The federal government's decision to further delay the approval of the [final EIS] for the Vineyard Wind ... project comes as a surprise and disappointment," the developer said in a statement. "To be clear, the Vineyard Wind ... project remains viable and continues to move forward."

The offshore wind developer urged the federal government to complete the review of the project as quickly as possible. In a July 18 statement, company officials said they had warned the BOEM "that for a variety of reasons, it would be very challenging to move forward the Vineyard Wind ... project in its current configuration if the final EIS is not issued within, approximately, the next four to six weeks."

Vineyard Wind is a joint venture between Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners K/S and Connecticut utility Avangrid Inc.'s Avangrid Renewables LLC subsidiary. The majority stakeholder in Avangrid is Spain-based Iberdrola SA.

To be located in federal waters 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket and 34 miles from the coast of Cape Cod, the proposed offshore wind farm will be connected to the mainland via two 400-MW, 200-kV submarine transmission lines. Along with onshore portions of the underground transmission lines, Vineyard Wind's "Connector" segment consists of a new 220/115 kV substation in Barnstable and a new 115-kV underground transmission connection between that substation and an existing Barnstable switching station.

In May 2018, Massachusetts utilities Eversource Energy, National Grid USA and Unitil Corp. selected the Vineyard Wind project in a joint solicitation for offshore wind power as part of a state clean energy mandate from 2016. In April, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved 20-year power purchase contracts between Vineyard Wind and the utilities for approximately $6 billion. Vineyard Wind is required to have 400 MW of nameplate capacity online by early 2022.