New York — US federal regulators' final environmental review released March 8 for the 800-MW Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm off the Massachusetts Coast identified a preferred project alternative that would include no more than 84 wind turbines and prohibit installing turbines in six locations.
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The alternative would allow the turbines to be installed in 100 of the 106 proposed locations and would prohibit installing wind turbines in six locations in the northernmost portion of the development area, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's highly anticipated final environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind. The project is a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of Spain's AVANGRID, and Denmark's Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
The environmental review is an important offshore wind industry milestone as it represents the penultimate step in the federal permitting process for the Vineyard Wind 1 project, which if approved, would be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the US.
The US currently has a 30-MW offshore wind project operating in state waters off Rhode Island and a 12-MW pilot project in federal waters offshore Virginia.
"More than three years of federal review and public comment is nearing its conclusion and 2021 is poised to be a momentous year for our project and the broader offshore wind industry," Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen, said in an emailed statement.
BOEM will publish on March 12 a Notice of Availability for the FEIS in the Federal Register, which analyzes the potential environmental impacts of its decision on Vineyard Wind's Construction and Operation Plan, the Department of Interior said in a statement. BOEM is an agency within the Interior Department.
The record of decision cannot happen for minimum of 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
The FEIS evaluates five action alternatives, one of which has two sub-alternatives, and a "no action alternative" for the proposed project.
National Environmental Policy Act regulations require identifying a preferred alternative in the FEIS, which is identified to "let the public know which alternative BOEM, as the lead agency, is leaning toward before an alternative is selected for action when a ROD is issued," according to the impact statement.
No final agency action is being taken by the identification of the preferred alternative and BOEM is not obligated to implement it, according to the FEIS.
BOEM's preferred alternatives is a combination of alternative project designs. The preferred alternative would involve the construction, operation, maintenance, and eventual decommissioning of an 800-MW large-scale commercial wind energy facility consisting of no more than 84 wind turbine generators in the outer continental shelf offshore Massachusetts within the proposed wind development area with the transmission cable making landfall at Covell's Beach, the document said.
The preferred alternative would require the turbines to be arranged in a north-south and east-west orientation with a minimum spacing of one nautical mile between them, the FEIS said.
BOEM's alternative includes mitigation and monitoring measures to avoid or reduce existing ocean use impacts and on environmental and socioeconomic resources associated with construction, operation, and maintenance activities across the various resource areas analyzed, the bureau said.
The FEIS found the proposed project, along with all alternative actions including the preferred alternative, would have a "major" impact on commercial fisheries and for-hire recreational fishing.
The fishing industry has been one of the biggest critics of East Coast offshore wind development due to concerns that the wind farms could push them out of their traditional fishing grounds.
The preferred alternative's environmental justice impacts could be "negligible to major," depending on the specific community affected, and could also have beneficial effects, the FEIS said.
The preferred alternative could also have "negligible to major" impacts on cultural, historical, and archaeological resources depending on the specific resource affected.
BOEM's preferred alternative was found to have a mixture of negligible to moderate impacts on all other resources evaluated, along with some minor to moderately beneficial impacts on things like demographics, employment, and economics.
"By any measure, this is a breakthrough for offshore wind energy in the United States," Heather Zichal, CEO of trade group American Clean Power Association, said in an emailed statement.
"We enthusiastically applaud the Biden Administration for completing a thorough analysis and moving ahead rapidly with the final steps to approve the Vineyard Wind project," Zichal said.