Social Distancing and Offshore Wind Approvals - Let's Think About How to Do This, NOW

Social Distancing and Offshore Wind Approvals - Let's Think About How to Do This, NOW

May 6, 2020 20:08
by J. Wylie Donald

How much we have learned in just a month.  Here is a viewpoint from an offshore wind publication on April 1:  

  • For many of the other infected nations, the economy will fall sharply in the short term, and then rebound after the epidemic is over. In this regard, COVID-19 is unlikely to have a huge long-term impact and epidemic prevention and control measures from local governments will be a key variable and the most decisive factor. On the premise of effective prevention and control, the whole epidemic is expected to be over in 2-3 months, with societies returning to normal.

What a difference a month makes.  In 10 days at the end of April and into May, offshore wind heavyweights Vestas, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Nordex all withdrew their financial guidance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  And even though Orsted claimed “the COVID-19 related impact on our construction projects will be limited both in terms of timing and economics,” it was forced to acknowledge that its US endeavors were facing significant headwinds:  its Maryland “Skipjack” project and New York “South Fork” projects  were nearly certain to be delayed, and its “Revolution Wind”, “Sunrise Wind” and “Ocean Wind” projects in Rhode Island/Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, respectively, all face “increased risk of delays.” 

While coronavirus is acknowledged to be the source of delay in New York, the bottleneck elsewhere appears to be BOEM.  BOEM, like the rest of us, is teleworking as a result of COVID-19.  Nevertheless, it is committing to sticking to its timeline for Vineyard Wind and other projects.   But here’s the rub.  The offshore wind permitting process (like many processes) requires public participation.  The American Wind Energy Association has laid out the process in a recent pamphlet.  "To ensure the process is as complete and transparent as possible, BOEM solicits public comments, convenes Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Forces with interested states, and holds public meetings throughout the offshore wind development process."  It derives from BOEM's own publication in 2016.  And that in turn hinges in large part on the National Environmental Policy Act and its implementing regulations.

While COVID-19 should not have much of an impact on written comments submitted by stakeholders, it is certain to interfere with public hearings and Task Force meetings, or at least such hearings and meetings as traditionally held.  BOEM (and all other government authorities involved) needs to identify now how it will implement public hearings and hold its Task Force meetings in the age of COVID-19.  It is critical that while those hearings and meetings continue to be open and public, to proceed on the desired timeframes they very likely must take some sort of virtual form.  Offshore wind can play a significant role in the economic rebound to the COVID-19 pandemic; it should not be delayed because social distancing requirements were not considered until too late.  The industry and interested public should push regulators to address these concerns promptly. 

Wind Energy | Utilities

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