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A Wet & Windy Post

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John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

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  • May 12, 2020

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This post will focus on updates for U.S. East Coast off-shore wind projects, and any advancements in products from turbine vendors that supply these to the aforementioned projects.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on May 12, 2020

Thanks for this, John-- it's been exciting watching the offshore wind race take hold up and down the Eastern U.S. Coasts, even if COVID-19 has created some unexpected speed bumps. 

I'm curious, are you tracking anything in regards to offshore wind in the Gulf as well? In the U.S., these discussions always seem to focus on the East Coast because of numerous advantages geographically and based on climate, but this recent post was talking interestingly about some of the unique aspects the Gulf Coast Offshore Wind might bring to the table:

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on May 15, 2020

Thanks very much for this update John.  It sounds like offshore wind is really coming of age on the US East Coast.  It is to be hoped that the COVID crisis does not force more slippage of start-ups.

With reference to this article regarding the delay in final EIS for the Vineyard project:

"Two schools of thought prevail about BOEM’s review of the offshore wind project.

One narrative has it that it is a politically motivated attempt to rein in green energy by the Trump administration …. That narrative is fed by President Trump’s dislike of wind energy (Note by me:  Prior to becoming President, Trump waged a long and costly war against wind turbines offshore Scotland, within site of one of his hotels.) and by the appointment of an Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt who has a background in ‘big oil’... used to work at a Washington law and lobbying firm, including on behalf of mining companies, oil and gas companies and has been described by some as “a walking conflict of interest.”

"The second, more likely narrative, is that since Vineyard Wind entered the environmental approval process, a huge amount of offshore wind capacity has been approved by states up and down the east coast of the US, and that BOEM wants to take stock of the situation and ensure that problems that could affect numbers of projects are addressed now...In October 2019, BOEM acting director Walter Cruickshank was reassuring in comments he made at an industry meeting. He said the additional analysis “was intended to better address potential conflicts with other ocean users” such as commercial fishing...He went on to say that BOEM expected its analysis “would serve as a model for future projects” and that the Department of Interior was “committed to getting this right” and “taking a long-term view on how best to manage offshore wind activities.”

John:  Do you know of any reason not to believe this article?  If accurate, I would say that the review will serve this and other projects well.  It is crucial that the environmental approval process both appears to be and is, in fact,  a robust and fair one.  These projects will set numerous regulatory precedents.

Regarding the EIS itself,  a very short summary:

1. Juridiction:   This is the “Outer Continental Shelf” and therefore, under Federal jurisdiction.  That makes the process somewhat less complicated in that it establishes one authority: as “EO 13807 establishes an approach called “One Federal Decision” for use with major infrastructure projects, which includes the preparation of a single EIS and Record of Decision for all federal permit and authorizations.”

However,  state and municipal authorities must be consulted.

2.  Impacts:  I refer to “Table ES-2: Summary and Comparison of Impacts by Action Alternatives with No Mitigation Measures» in the report.  With one exception, all impacts are considered either negligible, minor to negligible, minor to moderate or beneficial. The exception is this: Likely moderate, but potentially major short-term impacts on commercial fishing, subsistence fishing, and disruption of marine businesses in Lewis Bay .”

It is notable that the impacts on birds is considered to be “Negligible to minor short-term impacts from onshore construction; negligible to minor long-term impacts from offshore operations”. Same for bats. The report specifically addresses potential issues with  many species of birds, including eagles.

3. Mitigation measures:

«Disruption payment for fishing industry during construction:  Commercial Fisheries and For-Hire Recreational Fishing 

Dynamic Squid Fishing Avoidance Plan: Commercial Fisheries and For-Hire Recreational Fishing»


Because of the relatively (to other impacts) higher impact on fisheries, a whole section deals with these impacts, both with and without mitigation measures. Table  3.4.5-11 describes: «Comparisons of Alternatives for Commercial Fisheries with Mitigation»  It is worth noting that the “Table assumes financial compensation mitigation for gear loss, construction, and operations.”

4.  Life Span: “Project has a designed life span of 30 years”. Complete decommissioning is planned at end of facility lifetime. Everything can be recovered and appropriately disposed of - and not on the seabed.

5.  Landfall site(s): “Project expects to affect approximately 0.2 acre (740 m2)”. This is, obviously, one of the big advantages of offshore wind.

6.  Contingency Planning:  “Non-Routine Activities”, i.e. accidents, from minor to major,  will have little or no impact relative to other offshore activities.

“Waste, spills, or vessel discharges could occur offshore or onshore during any phase of the Proposed Action. The rarity and small size of potential spills, along with the measures in place to clean them up, indicate that these impacts would be negligible.”

With over 300 pages, this appears to be a very straightforward EIS, modest for a USD 2 billion project.  Of course, I cannot assess the value of the data collected or how the data were applied to the conclusions.  But the main contractor for the work is certainly a highly reputable one.  

The report is well worth having a look at. We have to wait and see how the government handles it, if at all.

Many thanks again for John´s report.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on May 18, 2020

Hi Mark:

Thanks for the thoughtful comments and questions.

I believe that both influences play into the current delays. There are many groups that are uncomfortable with offshore wind, and many that favor it. Thus a slow deliberative process is reasonable.

Also, I'm sure no bureaucrat in the current administration has been fired for delaying a renewable project.

Since I was involved in an earlier project on the East Coast (Cape Wind when I worked for Siemens), I know how tough it is to get a critical mass of support for these projects. Cape Wind crashed and burned, and politics played a major role in this failure.


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