The Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island was the nation's first offshore wind project. Credit: District 4 United Steelworkers / Creative Commons

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Offshore wind developers are reassessing projects with new confidence about their timelines following the Biden administration’s approval this week of the country’s first large-scale offshore wind project.

The 100-page decision granting Vineyard Wind approval to install up to 84 wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean off Massachusetts offers a template for the dozen other projects seeking similar federal approvals. And it comes as the process overall appears to be moving ahead more quickly, industry officials said.

“Overall, I think it’s a monumental and spectacular milestone for the industry,” said Jeff Grybowski, the chief executive officer of US Wind, which holds an 80,000-acre federal lease area off Maryland. “It signals to the world that the United States is prepared to move forward with large-scale, offshore wind farms. And it has provided some evidence that the Biden administration intends to make good on its promises about building out this large clean-energy economy.”

The Vineyard Wind decision had been delayed by more than a year under the Trump administration, causing many other developers waiting in the wings to extend the timelines for their projects. 

The administration announced in March that it is aiming to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 as a way of driving economic growth. The plan includes establishing a priority wind energy area in the shallow waters between Long Island and the New Jersey coast, advancing the permitting process for other projects, providing $230 million in port infrastructure development grants, and $3 billion in federal financing for wind and transmission developers. 

The decision on Vineyard Wind demonstrates the administration’s “remarkable focus on how to move the machinery of government to reach decisions on these projects,” Grybowski said. “These are not simple decisions. They involve many federal agencies. In order for all of that to come together, on something that has never been decided before, it requires leadership.”

Offshore wind wasn’t an area of focus under the Trump administration, he said, which created a situation “where things were just languishing and there wasn’t much clarity on how to move forward.” 

Even smaller steps in the offshore wind approval process seem to be feeling the impact of the new, more wind-friendly leadership, developers said. Mayflower Wind, the second project selected to provide offshore wind power to Massachusetts, has been seeking regulatory approvals to conduct various engineering, environmental, and cultural surveys as it develops its plans, said Seth Kaplan, director of external affairs for the project. 

“Survey approvals are moving very well since, let’s say, late January,” Kaplan said. “They seem to be moving more expeditiously than they were before, which is a really hopeful sign.” 

Now, wind developers will dig deep into the details of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s decision on Vineyard Wind, and decide whether they should make adjustments to their own projects to better ensure approval, Grybowski said. 

“This is the first large template that projects have to follow,” he said. 

US Wind submitted a construction and operation plan to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last year for a 270-megawatt wind farm, one of 13 projects in varying stages of planning or approval along the Eastern Seaboard. 

After Vineyard Wind, a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, the project next furthest along in the approval process is Southfork Wind, a 90-megawatt facility to be built east of Montauk Point in New York. It is expected to be operating by the end of 2023, according to Meaghan Wims, a spokesperson for Ørsted, which is developing the project in partnership with Eversource. 

And last month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued notification of its intent to begin the formal environmental review of Revolution Wind, a 704-megawatt project also being developed by Ørsted and Eversource off Rhode Island.

While the company has previously indicated that construction on Revolution Wind will likely be delayed beyond the original 2023 schedule, “now that BOEM has released its notice of intent, we will soon be in a position to better refine the project’s timeline,” Wims said. “We’ll have more details on that in the near future.” 

Liz Burdock, president and chief executive officer of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, said the decision removes a lot of the uncertainty that the industry faced over the last five years. 

“It is the start of commercial-scale construction for offshore wind in the U.S. — we now have a green light,” Burdock said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of money that’s been sitting on the sidelines start pouring in now.” 

A lingering concern, despite the administration’s commitment to offshore wind, is whether the agencies overseeing the federal approvals processes will have the staffing and resources to handle the forthcoming surge of activity. 

“Given all of the projects that are moving forward, the burden on those agencies is going to be very real,” Kaplan said. “There is going to be a need for them to have the resources to be able to manage everything that’s coming at them.” 

Nonetheless, Laura Morton, offshore lead for the American Clean Power Association, said the Vineyard Wind decision marks a “transformational moment” that will effectively launch an industry in the U.S.

“Before, we didn’t have that absolute commitment to move forward,” she said. “Now we have an opportunity to stimulate the market with this project and the others sitting in the queue at BOEM. The investment community is certainly seeing now that it needs to jump on.”

Both Morton and Grybowski noted, however, that this doesn’t mean that all projects have a clear path forward. The approval process is still rigorous, and ongoing communication with all stakeholders is key, they said. 

Grybowski, the former head of Deepwater Wind — which developed the Block Island Wind Farm, a small project off Rhode Island — said a big takeaway from that project was that “we cannot always convince every stakeholder to support the project. The best way to get the most people to support the project is to be as transparent about the facts as possible, including the things that some people won’t like.

Lisa Prevost

Lisa Prevost is a longtime journalist based in Connecticut. She writes regularly about housing, development and business for the New York Times. Her work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, CNBC.com, Next City and many other publications. She is the author of "Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice and Real Estate." A native New Englander, Lisa covers Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Sarah Shemkus

Sarah is a longtime journalist who covers business, technology, sustainability, and the places they all meet. She has covered the workings of small-town government in New Hampshire, the doings of alleged swindlers and con men, and the minutiae of local food systems. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Boston Globe, TheAtlantic.com, Slate, and other publications. Sarah covers the state of Massachusetts.