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East coast governors warn Trump over offshore wind delays

Democrats and Republicans sign joint letter laying out concerns over Vineyard Wind permitting issues

Five US east coast governors sent a letter to the Trump administration expressing concern that permitting delays for Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first major offshore wind project, will undermine efforts to promote regulatory certainty for the emerging sector.

“Like other industries, it is critical that states and the federal government establish and maintain clear regulatory timelines so as to incentivise the necessary capital investment,” they wrote in the letter to commerce secretary Wilbur Ross and interior secretary David Bernhardt.

“We encourage you to explore options for ensuring that supplemental review be conducted expeditiously so that a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Vineyard Wind Project can be issued by March 2020,” they added.

The letter was signed by three Democrats – Ned Lamont (Connecticut), Janet Mills (Maine) and Ralph Northam (Virginia) – and two Republicans – Charlie Baker (Massachusetts) and Chris Sununu (New Hampshire).

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a Department of Interior (DOI) agency, will include a final environmental review for the 800MW project in its ROD. BOEM oversees commercial offshore wind development on the outer continental beyond territorial limits of the states.

Earlier this month, BOEM delayed issuance of the so-called Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), citing the need to undertake a supplemental study of "cumulative impacts" from a greater potential build-out of offshore wind in the Atlantic than what DOI and other federal agencies had anticipated.

There was roughly a 23.5GW offshore wind pipeline there on 1 July, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).

Vineyard timeline 'no longer feasible' after US regulatory delay

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Vineyard – owned 50% each by Iberdrola’s Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners – had told BOEM that it would be challenging to move the project forward as configured without a FEIS by the end of this month given the tight timeline to close financing and remaining supply chain contracts.

It had targeted completion of an initial 400MW capacity by the end of 2021 and the balance within the next 12 months.

The developer later “affirmed a commitment to deliver” an 800MW wind project off the southern Massachusetts coast but with a revised schedule, saying the original timeline including construction start this year was “no longer feasible.”

In their letter, the governors said while they support assessing and mitigating impacts of large-scale offshore wind development, "we are disappointed that this review has adversely affected the timeline for the Vineyard Wind Project."

BOEM has told offshore developers that it will complete and publish a FEIS for their projects within two years from when they submit a Construction and Operations Plan. For Vineyard, that will be in March 2020.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2017 that limits environmental reviews to 24 months for major infrastructure projects.

The governors called offshore wind investment a "win for our country" as it will both increase domestic energy production and further America's energy independence, but also create thousands of job in their and other states.

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