By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The influx of offshore wind energy isn’t without its hiccups as developers negotiate with regulatory agencies and fishermen to get their projects approved as deadlines approach.
Vineyard Wind, the 94-turbine wind facility proposed for south of Martha’s Vineyard, was dealt a setback recently when it was denied an extension to complete a review by Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC).
The developers, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables LLC, already received additional time and wanted a seven-week extension to settle objections from fishermen and CRMC staff. The project is under pressure to get approved so that it can meet deadlines for financing and qualify for a federal tax credit.
At issue is the layout of the project. Fishermen want wide corridors, specifically a mile or wider oriented east to west. Current plans offer two 1-mile corridors, with only one running east to west. As an alternative, Vineyard Wind proposed using larger turbines with nearly 10 megawatts of capacity, thereby reducing the number of towers to 84 and shrinking the project’s footprint.
According to Vineyard Wind, the bigger turbines would be the largest available commercially, but pose risk to the project because they haven’t received design certification.
Vineyard Wind also offered to pay the fishermen for lost income. Details of the compensation proposal would be negotiated with fishermen and would consist of funds paid to boat owners and/or programs that support the commercial fishing industry. Vineyard Wind also offered to contribute to fisheries studies of the federal wind-energy zone.
CRMC said it was open to another extension but only after good-faith efforts were made with the Fishermen’s Advisory Board (FAB), a CRMC-affiliated committee.
That effort was stymied Nov. 19 when the FAB declined to consent to the latest design proposal.
Vineyard Wind is scheduled to go before the CRMC on Nov. 27 to learn if it will be granted another extension to address the dispute with commercial fishermen.
At a Nov. 13 meeting, Grover Fugate, CRMC’s executive director, said he wants Vineyard Wind to pay fishermen as a last resort.
“Our first obligation is to avoid (adverse impacts), then mitigate, and then the very last thing is we start looking at compensation,” Fugate said.
Although the 800-megawatt wind project is intended to supply electricity to Massachusetts and is in federal waters, Rhode Island has oversight in the permitting because it impacts state coastal activities such as fishing. Rhode Island also has oversight because the high-voltage power cable may also run through Narragansett Bay.
The electricity would be delivered to the electric distribution companies Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil and generate electricity greater than the power used by 15 percent of the homes in Massachusetts. Vineyard Wind noted that the project reduces fossil-fuel use, thus mitigating the risks posed by climate change. The added renewable energy also reduces strain on the regional natural-gas supply, especially during winter cold snaps.
The 20-year power-purchase-agreement is cost-competitive with other fuels at 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The Block Island Wind Farm receives 24.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. In order to meet that price, qualify for the federal investment tax credit, and secure financing, Vineyard Wind must have all permits by September 2019. The developer intends to start construction in the fourth quarter of 2019 and be operating by Jan. 15, 2022.
The $2 billion project is being reviewed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). The federal agency is expected to release a draft of an environmental impact statement on Dec. 7. Vineyard Wind aims to have a permit from BOEM by July 19.
“Any delay in BOEM’s approval process will have a domino effect and will most likely be fatal to the project,” Erich Stephens, Vineyard Wind’s chief development officer, wrote in a letter to CRMC.
Stephens noted that there isn’t time to reconfigure the project as requested by fishermen. New surveys and design work would add more than a year to the project timeline.
Vineyard Wind also has a 350-megawatt wind project proposed for Rhode Island in the same federal wind-energy zone south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
The CRMC meeting scheduled for Nov. 27 at 6 p.m. is in the Department of Administration building, conference room A, One Capitol Hill.