Power & Pipes

FERC, CFTC, and State Energy Law Developments

A very significant step in the development of offshore wind in the United States was reached on May 11, 2021, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved Vineyard Wind’s 62-turbine offshore wind farm located about 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. This is the first major offshore wind project approved by BOEM, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service: at 800 megawatts of capacity, the project is an order of magnitude larger than previously-installed test turbines and projects like the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm.

Administration officials have touted the project as the first step in a broader push to facilitate renewable energy development—and offshore wind in particular. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland referred to the project as “an important step toward advancing the Administration's goals to create good paying union jobs while combating climate change and powering our nation,” and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said that “[i]t is projects like this that will allow us to achieve the President's ambitious climate goals.”

In recent years, there has been a significant uptick in the number of projects entering the permitting process and the Biden-Harris administration’s goal of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 is likely to spur additional projects. Vineyard Wind’s approval is likely to facilitate the development of additional projects in several ways:

  • First, as part of its approval process, BOEM issued a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that assessed the cumulative impacts of not only the Vineyard Wind project but also the potential installation of up to 22 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity on the East Coast of the United States over the next decade. That analysis, which concluded that wind development could have significant impacts on commercial fishing but only minor impacts on other considerations like air and water quality, could be relied on in the permitting of other wind farms to reduce the need for additional studies and potentially significantly reduce the permitting timeline.
  • Second, the permitting process for the Vineyard Yard wind project has illuminated potential issue areas and helped develop compromises and solutions. For example, the project layout approved in the record of decision includes at least one mile of spacing between turbines, which may resolve some concerns about navigation through the project. It is also possible that additional concerns will be resolved through litigation—commercial fishing interests including the Responsible Offshore Development Association have continued to express their objections to the project. If fishing industry groups or others choose to petition for review of the record of decision and litigate the issue to a final judgment, a court’s order could help remove uncertainty about whether or not such objections are significant obstacles to future projects.

Third, the approval and ongoing development of the Vineyard Wind project will have both practical and symbolic benefits for future projects. On the practical level, the construction of the project will help develop infrastructure and expertise for additional US offshore wind projects. And, perhaps even more importantly, Vineyard Wind’s approval is proof that a commercial-scale offshore wind facility in the United States is possible.