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U.S. approves large wind farm off shore of Massachusetts

by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | May 12, 2021 at 2:08 a.m.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday its final approval of the nation's first commercial-scale offshore wind farm, a major step toward President Joe Biden's goal of expanding renewable energy production across the United States.

The Vineyard Wind project calls for up to 84 turbines to be installed in the Atlantic Ocean about 12 nautical miles off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Together, they could generate about 800 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 400,000 homes. The administration estimates that the project will create about 3,600 jobs.

The idea of a wind farm off the Massachusetts coast was conceived two decades ago but ran into repeated setbacks, delays and well-funded opposition from waterfront property owners before the Trump administration moved to cancel the project's permitting process.

The Biden administration jump-started progress on Vineyard Wind in March as part of its larger push to tackle climate change.

"A clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Tuesday. "The approval of this project is an important step toward advancing the administration's goals to create good paying union jobs while combating climate change and powering our nation. Today is one of many actions we are determined to take to open the doors of economic opportunity to more Americans."

The administration has pledged to build 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind in the United States by 2030. It's a target the White House contended would spark $12 billion in capital investments annually, supporting 77,000 direct and indirect jobs by the end of the decade.

Many Republicans are skeptical of Biden's job creation claims and say the president's plans -- particularly his suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters -- are already hurting union workers in fossil-fuel industries.

The $2.8 billion project is a joint venture of the energy providers Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

"It's a big deal on its face. It's the first of its kind," said Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council. He praised the administration and said, "I think it's an important message that these jobs will be good union jobs with good wages and benefits."

Callahan and other labor leaders have sought to ensure that the project will be built and maintained by union workers.

The Biden administration said that it intended to fast-track permits for projects off the Atlantic Coast and that it would offer $3 billion in federal loan guarantees for offshore wind projects and invest in upgrades to ports across the United States to support wind turbine construction.

Vineyard Wind is broadly viewed as a test of the Biden administration's ability to speed up permitting offshore wind projects while navigating concerns from some labor groups as well as commercial fishermen and others.

"It's a big deal, and not just for Vineyard Wind. This is the icebreaker, it's the first one, it's charting the course," Rafael McDonald, an electricity and renewable analyst at IHS Markit, said after the Biden administration released its initial environmental review in March. "There's all this pent-up demand from state mandates, and Vineyard Wind is the bellwether."

OBJECTIONS TO PLANS

Still, some coastal communities have decried wind farms as eyesores, and some environmentalists are worried about the impact on marine life.

Fishing groups, meanwhile, are concerned that their boats and trawlers will be forced to steer clear of the hulking turbines, the largest of which now have rotor diameters the length of two football fields. That could limit the amount of seafood they can catch, potentially depriving coastal fishing communities of millions of dollars in revenue.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of fishing groups and businesses, characterized the approval of the project as a sellout to multinational corporations that hope to profit on offshore wind in the U.S.

"For the past decade, fishermen have participated in offshore wind meetings whenever they were asked and produced reasonable requests only to be met with silence," said Anne Hawkins, executive director of the group. "From this silence now emerges unilateral action and a clear indication that those in authority care more about multinational businesses and energy politics than our environment, domestic food sources, or U.S. citizens."

Electricity generated by the Vineyard Wind turbines will travel by cables buried 6 feet below the ocean floor to Cape Cod, where they would connect to a substation and feed into the New England grid. Construction would begin later this year; the project's developers say it could be operational by 2023.

PROPOSED PROJECTS

In addition to Vineyard Wind, a dozen other offshore wind projects along the East Coast are under federal review. The Interior Department has estimated that by the end of the decade developers of offshore wind projects could install at least 2,000 turbines from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Offshore wind, which is booming in Europe, is a nascent industry in the United States. Only two wind farms currently operate, off the coasts of Virginia and Rhode Island. Together, they produce 42 megawatts of electricity.

But several Atlantic Coast states, including Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Virginia, have committed to buying more than 25,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2035, according to the American Clean Power Association.

Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Friedman and Coral Davenport of The New York Times and by Patrick Whittle of The Associated Press.

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