The US’ lengthy environmental review of the pioneering $2.8bn Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts will establish a strong foundation for more efficient and predictable regulatory processes to enable wind power development in federal waters, according to the head of the government’s offshore industry regulator.

“As we have worked through this process for the first time, we have adapted our initial approach which we believe will allow the permitting of projects to run more smoothly in the future,” Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), told the US Offshore Wind 2020 Virtual conference.

“Our goal is that all ocean users can successfully co-exist. We want to define best practice and project design in US waters to achieve that goal,” he said, adding he believes a supplement to the preliminary environmental impact statement (EIS) for Vineyard that the agency issued last week for public comment will do this.

“We are continuing to work to make regulatory processes more efficient and predictable to better serve industry, stakeholders and the American public,” said Cruickshank.

BOEM, part of the Department of Interior, oversees offshore wind development on the outer continental shelf beyond state territorial limits.

Last August, Vineyard Wind stalled when Interior Secretary David Bernhardt unexpectedly halted the permitting process that had been scheduled to end by then.

He instructed BOEM to further study potential environmental consequences of the 800MW project and “reasonably foreseeable” cumulative impacts from developments along the east coast based on state offshore wind goals and technical capacity in 16 areas under lease.

That move was partly prompted by concerns raised by stakeholders including the commercial fishing and shipping industries that Vineyard’s placement of wind turbines would negatively interfere with their activities and compromise navigation safety.

The decision caught Vineyard – owned equally by Iberdrola’s Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners – off-guard, forcing it to scrap an aggressive timeline with fourth quarter 2019 construction start to begin delivery of electric power in January 2022.

The supplemental study also considers previously unavailable fishing data, a new transit lane alternative through part of the Vineyard array, wider turbine spacing, and changes to the project’s construction and operations (COP) plan - which outlines project construction, operations and conceptual decommissioning under a commercial wind lease - submitted by the developer.

Elsewhere, Cruickshank said BOEM is in the “planning stages” for future sales of wind energy lease areas in the Gulf of Maine and off the coasts of California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and North and South Carolina.

He did not provide a timeline for lease sales but said BOEM is fully aware that states’ demand for offshore wind energy continues to grow.

“We recognize this demand and are working to find suitable places for wind leasing in these areas. This is a challenge due to the multiple uses and resources that occur in these areas. I believe our approach will be informed by the input we will receive from the analysis of the cumulative scenario we’ve just released,” he said.

States are pushing for more lease sales to help meet their goals for electricity generated from offshore wind and to increase potential competition for their power procurement.

“Industry wants to see a pipeline of future projects beyond those that might be built on our existing leases, to incentivise investments in the supply chain and supporting infrastructure,” said Cruickshank.

“Technological advances, falling costs, aggressive state policies and tremendous economic potential make offshore wind a promising avenue for diversifying the national energy portfolio.”

Investment in the US offshore wind power industry was on track to eclipse that going into the country’s offshore oil & gas sector within five years as the turbine build-out off its Atlantic seaboard grows to 20GW by 2030, according to new research from Rystad Energy, with annual capital expenditure forecast to surpass $15bn “by the mid-2020s”, before taking a knock from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The US’ National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates there is a 2TW offshore wind resource – equal to twice the nation’s current electricity use – flowing over the the country’s Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

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