The Biden administration’s announcement this week of a plan to resume an environmental review of a wind farm off the Massachusetts coast and accelerate green-energy development was welcomed by developers and proponents of projects for Long Island.
Biden on Jan. 27 signed an executive order calling for the Interior Department to “identify steps to accelerate responsible development of renewable energy on public lands and waters,” a stark change from the Trump administration, which had slowed federal approvals. Trump himself was a vocal opponent of wind energy, saying it killed birds, was unreliable and even caused cancer.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday released a statement saying it would restart the environmental review and work to develop a final environmental impact statement needed to approve the project’s construction and operations plan. The project, called Vineyard Wind, a company based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, had withdrawn its application for the construction plan for the 800-megawatt project, one of the first expected to come online, to review the prospect of using larger turbines.
Biden’s administration also recently named Amanda Lefton as director of BOEM. Lefton had most recently been first assistant secretary for Energy and the Environment in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration. She was previously deputy policy director for the Nature Conservancy in New York.
For the developers of the South Fork Wind Farm, a LIPA-contracted project that is scheduled to supply power to the South Fork by 2023, news of the Vineyard Wind advancement, and the Biden administration’s commitment to wind, was welcome news.
“I do think it’s a strong signal right out of the gate from the Biden administration,” said Fred Zalcman, head of government affairs for Danish energy giant Orsted, which with Eversource is developing the South Fork 130-megawatt project. “We’ve all been in a holding pattern for the better part of a year” as BOEM undertook a separate study to review “cumulative impacts” of multiple wind farms on fishing and shipping industries. Zalcman said those studies are now largely concluded and the transition to the Biden administration will result in a “strong push forward for offshore wind.”
Jennifer Garvey, development director for Orsted, noted the South Fork project is advancing through a state process called Article VII that could go before the full state Public Service Commission as early as March. Meanwhile, the draft environmental impact statement for the South Fork project, already published, has moved to the public comment phase, and online forums are scheduled to start online next week.
Orsted officials said one issue raised in the study that Orsted will be working to address is the proposed alternative of a shipping lane through the wind arrays that would result in a row of South Fork Wind turbines being eliminated. The project has already re-spaced turbines to more than one nautical mile apart to make way for safe shipping between the structures, and worries the alternative, if pursued, could impact the project and actually make navigation less safe. It would eliminate five of the project’s up to 15 turbines.
Orsted officials declined to comment on the decision by the company not to renew the contract of Julie Evans, a Montauk fishing boat captain who had been a fisheries representative to the company for local fishing issues. She had worked with fishermen in 2020 on fishing-gear loss cases tied to Orsted survey work. One fishermen, Vinny Damm of Montauk, had his claim rejected. Orsted declined to comment on the matter.
Evans said the fact that Orsted did not fund her position past January was a signal that “Orsted does not want to hear what the fishermen want,” noting that she was recommended for the job by the East Hampton Town’s Fisheries Advisory Committee, on which she sits. “What they did was [snub] the Fisheries Advisory Committee, who are the people that chose me to represent them against Godzilla stamping on the ocean.”
Meaghan Wims, a spokeswoman for the South Fork Wind Farm project, in early January said of Evans’ apparent dismissal, “We do not comment on contractual matters.” She added, “We expect our Montauk-based fisheries representative position will be filled in the coming days.” A replacement hasn’t yet been named.