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Major wind project was dependent on Biden admin waiving taxpayer safeguard: internal docs

Fox News|Thomas Catenacci|January 15, 2024
MassachusettsUSAOffshore WindDecommissioning

"The more we dig into the details of the Vineyard Wind project the more concerning it becomes. The Biden administration brags that this is the first utility-scale offshore wind project. But clearly, without BOEM contorting the approval process and waiving requirements meant to protect taxpayers, Vineyard is unlikely to ever have gotten off the ground," Michael Chamberlain, the director of watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust (PPT), which obtained the documents, told Fox News Digital.


A Massachusetts wind project, which recently became the first utility-scale offshore wind project to deliver electricity to the grid, wouldn't have been financially viable if the Biden administration hadn't intervened, according to internal documents reviewed by Fox News Digital.

Federal officials with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) acknowledged in the unearthed communications shared with Fox News Digital that granting a waiver on development fees designed to safeguard taxpayers was "critical" for the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project. BOEM ultimately waived the financial assurance for decommissioning costs fee for the project in June 2021.

"The more we dig into the details of the Vineyard Wind project the more concerning …

... more [truncated due to possible copyright]

A Massachusetts wind project, which recently became the first utility-scale offshore wind project to deliver electricity to the grid, wouldn't have been financially viable if the Biden administration hadn't intervened, according to internal documents reviewed by Fox News Digital.

Federal officials with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) acknowledged in the unearthed communications shared with Fox News Digital that granting a waiver on development fees designed to safeguard taxpayers was "critical" for the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project. BOEM ultimately waived the financial assurance for decommissioning costs fee for the project in June 2021.

"The more we dig into the details of the Vineyard Wind project the more concerning it becomes. The Biden administration brags that this is the first utility-scale offshore wind project. But clearly, without BOEM contorting the approval process and waiving requirements meant to protect taxpayers, Vineyard is unlikely to ever have gotten off the ground," Michael Chamberlain, the director of watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust (PPT), which obtained the documents, told Fox News Digital.

"Both BOEM and the developer have admitted as much. This situation does not bode well," Chamberlain continued. "If government has to bend the rules to make these projects feasible, it's just a matter of time before the 'clean energy transition' is dead in the water. The only questions may be how many taxpayer resources are put at risk and how much of the American public’s trust is squandered before it happens."

Vineyard Wind of New Bedford, the construction/layover work happening at the New Bedford Marine Terminal. A view of stacked GE Haliade- X turbine blades.
Wind turbine blades are stacked at the New Bedford Marine Terminal in Massachusetts on June 14, 2023. The blades are for the Vineyard Wind project. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

On June 15, 2021, BOEM Office of Renewable Energy Programs Chief James Bennett sent a letter to Vineyard Wind's developer, informing the firm that the agency had approved a March 2021 request to waive the fee. Under the action, Vineyard Wind isn't required to pay the development fee until 15 years after the project enters operations under its 20-year power purchase agreements.

Vineyard Wind first submitted the request in December 2017, but the Trump administration rejected it, forcing the developer to resubmit it in March 2021. Federal statute mandates that developers pay the fee prior to construction on their lease, a potentially hefty fee designed to guarantee federal property is returned to its original state after a lessee departs its lease.

In addition, Meredith Lilley, an energy program specialist at BOEM's Office of Renewable Energy Programs, acknowledged in an internal email also on June 15, 2021, that waiving the fee by August 2021 was vital to ensure Vineyard Wind could maintain financial viability. The move notably came one month before BOEM approved the project's construction and operations plan.

"Issuing a decision to Vineyard Wind on this request is critical to enabling them to carry on with the Vineyard Wind 1 Project because it is a key determinant of the project’s value, which Vineyard Wind needs to know now in order to secure financing and achieve financial close in early August," Lilley wrote in the email to other federal officials involved in internal deliberations.

Biden and wind projects

President Biden points to a wind turbine size comparison chart during a meeting about the Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership on June 23, 2022. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

And according to Bennett, BOEM waived the fee because the project included risk reduction factors, including insurance policies to cover damages, use of proven wind turbine technology, and the use of power purchase agreements "with guaranteed electricity sales prices that, coupled with the consistent supply of wind energy, ensure a predictable income over the life of the project."

The letter also stated that the "regulatory departure" would reduce Vineyard Wind's financial assurance burden, enabling the developer to invest freed-up capital in construction and enabling the project to enter operations sooner. In addition, it explained the fee was waived also because it "promotes the production and transmission of energy from a source other than oil and gas."

"In 2021, per its regulatory authority, BOEM approved Vineyard Wind 1’s request to defer providing the full amount of its decommissioning financial assurance until year 15 of actual operations under its 20-year Power Purchase Agreement for the Vineyard Wind 1 offshore wind energy project offshore Massachusetts," a BOEM spokesperson told Fox News Digital in a statement.

"BOEM deferred this requirement for Vineyard Wind 1 with the condition that such financial assurance would be provided in full during a time when the project risk is low — that is, during the time when the offshore wind lessee has guaranteed financial support through an assured price for the electricity generated by the project," the spokesperson added.

The revelation comes days after Vineyard Wind's developers, lawmakers and environmental groups celebrated the project beginning to send electricity to the grid. The milestone was achieved after one wind turbine entered operations at the offshore site which will eventually host 62 turbines.

After the turbine began producing electricity on Jan. 2, the Sierra Club said the project "will aid tremendously in reducing dangerous fossil fuel air pollution" and fellow eco group the Conservation Law Foundation added that "New England’s transition away from polluting fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy is underway in earnest."

"They've made it very, very clear that they will approve these projects really regardless of anything," Meghan Lapp, the fisheries liaison for Rhode Island-based fishing company Seafreeze, told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

"They don't care about the impacts to fishing communities," she added. "They don't care about the impacts to coastal communities. They don't care about the impacts to marine mammals. Even though there's a lot of regulation on all of these other things and all of those other spheres, offshore wind gets a pass."

Lapp's company Seafreeze is spearheading a lawsuit against Vineyard Wind over the project's impacts on the fishing industry, the environment and coastal communities. Lapp expressed concern that, if the case leads to a court order to remove the project's turbines, there will be no funds for that removal operation given BOEM's waiver.

"If we win, we want those turbines gone. We want them taken out," she said. "The entire time, throughout the regulatory process for all of these wind farms, the federal government keeps saying, 'Don't worry, there are decommissioning funds.' Well, now come to find out there are no decommissioning funds for Vineyard Wind. If we win the case, who's going to take them out? And that's a big, big problem."

Vineyard Wind — which is a joint venture between Danish energy developer Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and New England utility services company Avangrid — was first proposed years ago, but was fast-tracked once President Biden entered office. In May 2021, the Department of the Interior (DOI) formally approved the project, marking the first utility-scale offshore wind farm to receive federal approval.

Then, in July 2021, BOEM approved Vineyard Wind's construction and operations plan and, four months later, DOI Secretary Deb Haaland joined then-Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and other officials for the commemorative groundbreaking of the project in Barnstable, Massachusetts. 


Source:https://www.foxnews.com/polit…

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