Vineyard Wind has emerged as the first U.S. offshore wind project to face delays caused by the ongoing federal shutdown.
Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners were due to start building the 800-megawatt wind farm off of Massachusetts this year, but they have already seen postponements to two public meetings relating to the project’s draft environmental impact statement.
The meetings were scheduled for Jan. 8 and 9 with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency within the Department of the Interior. Further public meetings with BOEM on Jan. 15 and 16 seem likely to be pushed back as the partial shutdown continues.
“As far as I’m aware, there’s no clarity on when they will be held,” said Richard Heap, editor-in-chief at the wind industry information service A Word About Wind.
BOEM’s press team was not available to comment because of the shutdown. An out-of-office message confirmed staff are not allowed to work until the federal budget issue had been resolved.
On Jan. 7, Vineyard Wind issued a statement encouraging members of the public to submit comments online to BOEM. “BOEM continues to accept online comments during the shutdown,” Vineyard Wind said.
It is still unclear what impact these delays will have on project timelines.
The company has said the project will require more than 25 federal, state and local permits and authorizations, with BOEM acting as the lead federal agency and the Energy Facilities Siting Board being the main point of liaison for state affairs.
BOEM’s role in the permitting process could imply substantial delays to project timelines if the shutdown drags on, since every day adds to the amount of work that the federal agency will have to catch up on.
“Any delay will depend on the length of the shutdown and the backlog created,” said Chris LeWand, global clean energy practice co-leader at FTI Consulting.
For now, Vineyard Wind seems to be the U.S. offshore wind project most significantly affected by the shutdown because of its reliance on BOEM permits as it gets ready for construction.
In general, said LeWand: “Offshore wind development projects are at the early stages of development, with likely construction start dates several years out. Any delays need to be put in this context.”
He also noted that the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission already had funding for 2019, so their programs were unlikely to be affected by the shutdown.
More widely, though, the current halt in federal work could have an impact on future offshore wind leasing plans by creating delays in the planning process.
Last April, for example, BOEM announced it was conducting a high-level assessment of all U.S. Atlantic offshore waters for potential future wind lease locations. It is not known whether this lease area assessment work is on hold during the shutdown.
Elsewhere, media outlets have noted that while renewable planning work is on hold, federal teams are still engaged in fossil fuel projects. Bloomberg reports the Interior Department was still issuing drilling permits for oil companies wanting to operate in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Trump administration is working overtime to make sure the shutdown doesn’t halt oil drilling too — in ways critics say may flout federal law,” according to Bloomberg.
And Reuters reported that the Alaska Bureau of Land Management, another part of the Interior Department, was still moving forward with meetings related to the expansion of oil development in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve.
“A BLM spokesman in Washington said the public hearings over permits to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska were exempt from the shutdown,” Reuters reports.
Offshore wind delays, meanwhile, come after BOEM hosted a record-breaking auction for the sector just one month ago.
“It’s tempting to see the shutdown as a short-term hissy fit by a petulant president, but the fact is that it has delayed some meetings,” said Heap. “Offshore wind farms are long-term projects, and developers will always factor in some delays into their permitting. However, these kinds of procedural delays can have knock-on effects later in the development process.”