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Vineyard Wind Races Against the Clock

Beyond the immediate concerns with permitting, Vineyard Wind faces a tangle of logistical challenges and potential investor turmoil if the project continues to see delays. Anthony Logan, an industry expert with the renewables research firm Wood Mackenzie Power, has spent the past six years forecasting the wind energy field. He said that while Vineyard Wind, barring major disaster, remains poised to become the first industrial-scale offshore wind-farm in the U.S., the financial success of the project is dependent on qualifying for a federal tax incentive for wind energy projects, known as the investment tax credit (ITC).

Construction on Vineyard Wind, a massive plan to build 84 wind turbines 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, is slated to begin by Jan. 1, but regulatory snags on two different fronts have created a race against the clock for what would be the nation’s first industrial scale offshore wind project.

In early July, the Edgartown conservation commission dealt a surprise setback to wind developers when it voted 5-1 to deny two undersea cables that would connect the turbines to mainland Massachusetts, after hearing concerns from local fishermen. On the same day, Vineyard Wind received news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had delayed the release of the project’s final environmental impact statement (EIS). In a press release shortly thereafter, Vineyard Wind acknowledged the need to have an EIS in hand “within, approximately, the next four to six weeks.”

Now, three weeks later, Vineyard Wind has appealed the conservation commission ruling to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Developers are awaiting that decision, along with a statement from BOEM on the EIS.

The developments are early challenges for a huge infrastructure project... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Construction on Vineyard Wind, a massive plan to build 84 wind turbines 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, is slated to begin by Jan. 1, but regulatory snags on two different fronts have created a race against the clock for what would be the nation’s first industrial scale offshore wind project.

In early July, the Edgartown conservation commission dealt a surprise setback to wind developers when it voted 5-1 to deny two undersea cables that would connect the turbines to mainland Massachusetts, after hearing concerns from local fishermen. On the same day, Vineyard Wind received news that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) had delayed the release of the project’s final environmental impact statement (EIS). In a press release shortly thereafter, Vineyard Wind acknowledged the need to have an EIS in hand “within, approximately, the next four to six weeks.”

Now, three weeks later, Vineyard Wind has appealed the conservation commission ruling to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Developers are awaiting that decision, along with a statement from BOEM on the EIS.

The developments are early challenges for a huge infrastructure project that lies on the frontier of a nascent, billion-dollar renewable energy industry. Further delays have the potential to jeopardize hefty tax credits, utility contracts and equipment leases dependent upon an already tenuous supply chain and construction timeline. A source close to the project said meetings with regulators are ongoing, and that the plan is still to have construction begin by the new year.

Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the DEP, confirmed this week that Vineyard Wind and the Edgartown conservation commission held a conference call earlier last week to discuss the project. The agency has 70 days to issue a superseding order of conditions to the commission’s decision.

“I expect to see something on it much sooner than that,” Mr. Coletta said.

Meanwhile, as apparent concerns from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service continue to hold up the environmental impact statement, Gov. Charlie Baker traveled to Washington last week to meet with the new Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to discuss the matter.

BOEM spokesman Stephen Boutwell said in an email that the agency has two years from March 30, 2018 to issue a final EIS. Vineyard Wind hoped to see the final statement this April, but it has since been delayed twice, including the most recent delay in July. Mr. Boutwell would not comment on a prospective date for the release of the EIS.

“Proposed offshore wind facilities are major infrastructure projects that must undergo appropriate review and approval,” he wrote in part. “BOEM continues to incorporate feedback received on the draft environmental impact statement and is working closely with cooperating agencies to facilitate the environmental review of the Vineyard Wind project.”

Beyond the immediate concerns with permitting, Vineyard Wind faces a tangle of logistical challenges and potential investor turmoil if the project continues to see delays.

Anthony Logan, an industry expert with the renewables research firm Wood Mackenzie Power, has spent the past six years forecasting the wind energy field. He said that while Vineyard Wind, barring major disaster, remains poised to become the first industrial-scale offshore wind-farm in the U.S., the financial success of the project is dependent on qualifying for a federal tax incentive for wind energy projects, known as the investment tax credit (ITC).

The ITC is a step-down tax credit that returns a certain percentage of the cost of the project to investors upon the project’s completion. But because the federal government is phasing out the credit, the amount returned is dependent on the project’s start date. A 2017 start date returns a 24 per cent tax credit and a 2018 start date returns an 18 per cent tax credit. A 2020 start date returns zero tax credit.

The wind farm project is valued at over $2 billion.

Although a February 2019 financial statement from Avangrid Renewables, an American company with a 50 per cent stake in Vineyard Wind, says the company has qualified for a 24 per cent ITC for the first phase of the project, and an 18 per cent ITC for its second phase, there remains a four-year window in which the company has to complete the project to reap the tax credits. For Vineyard Wind, that date is early 2021, one year before its three utility contracts require the project to go online.

In a statement, Vineyard Wind spokesman Scott Farmelant said the tax credits have made the project’s competitive pricing possible.

“Vineyard Wind is able to provide New England ratepayers with $3.7 billion in energy savings, in large part by applying the federal wind energy investment tax credit to the cost-competitive price it bid to Massachusetts utilities and which will directly benefit consumers,” he said.

But according to Mr. Logan, failure to reach those deadlines, which he said was very unlikely, would present large enough pressures to potentially threaten the company’s financial viability.

“It would probably jeopardize the project,” the industry expert said. “If you’re talking about going from a 12 per cent ITC to a zero percent ITC, if you’re a company with a huge balance sheet, okay, maybe you can do it. But for Vineyard Wind, losing the ITC outright, going from 18 to 24 per cent to zero, is a much harder ask I think.”

Worse yet, if permitting is in peril, it will be difficult for the company to court tax equity investors — financiers who put money into projects for the sole benefit of receiving a tax credit.

“This is a particularly bad time because it’s very difficult to get an investor on board,” Mr. Logan said. “If the tax credit is in jeopardy, usually they are going to say, I’m out.”

Vineyard Wind, whose home office is in New Bedford, also has an extremely tight construction schedule and supply chain, dependent on the use of skilled labor and specialized equipment, including transformers, installation vessels and support vessels. There is only one American flag vessel, based in Louisiana, properly equipped for installation. Mr. Logan said companies like Vineyard Wind have to pay expensive day rates for its European counterparts to travel over the Atlantic — the use of which are limited by maritime trade legislation called the Jones Act.

“This equipment is difficult to find and procure and needs to be done ahead of time,” Mr. Logan said. “Timeline pressure exists at really every stage of a project like this . . . and if at any point this project is interrupted, there are going to be a ton of cascading waterfall effects. That’s what Vineyard Wind is really warning about.”

For offshore construction, because of environmental regulations to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, Vineyard Wind cannot build from January through April. For onshore construction, out of consideration for the region’s seasonal economy, the company has agreed not to build from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

“Really, there is no real roadmap,” Mr. Logan said. “In a way, everything is, if not an obstacle, than something to negotiate past. Everything is going to be new. There’s a lot of experience Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners [which own the other 50 per cent share in the company] are bringing over from Europe. But thriving in a mature offshore market is very different than building a nonexistent one from scratch.”

That’s true for the federal and state governments as well. Gov. Baker, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, have made renewable energy investment a lynchpin of their environmental platforms. And for the federal government, every offshore lease area sold goes straight into the coffers of their treasuries. The success or failure of Vineyard Wind and the ease with which it is permitted, as the first leaseholder, will influence the value and pricing of all future lease auctions all along the Eastern seaboard.

“They are all politically invested in this,” Mr. Logan said. “I think the [Trump] administration would love to be able to chest bump . . . but if they go out and cut the legs from under Vineyard Wind, then it’s not going to happen.”

Even with deadlines looming, Mr. Logan is optimistic that Vineyard Wind will be able to get the project online by 2021 — not just because of political string-pulling, but because of an experienced team of permitters.

“It’s a very talented team they have. They will do what they need to,” Mr. Logan said. “ It’s too early to tell for sure, because they have the Sword of Damocles over them, but it should be an achievable target.”


Source: https://vineyardgazette.com...

AUG 9 2019
http://www.windaction.org/posts/50136-vineyard-wind-races-against-the-clock
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