Vineyard Wind Harpooned By New Federal Lawsuit

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Despite more than a decade of hype and the promise of billions of dollars in federal and state subsidies, the offshore wind boondoggle – and yes, boondoggle is the right word for it – keeps getting torpedoed by delays and litigation. 

The latest harpoon to slam the nascent industry hit recently when the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation sued three federal agencies in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. on behalf of several commercial fishing groups. The suit alleges that the permit awarded to the proposed 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project violates numerous federal laws including the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.

The suit, which will almost certainly result in a long delay to the construction of Vineyard Wind, is the second federal lawsuit filed against the project in the past few months. In August, a group called Nantucket Residents Against Turbines filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other federal agencies, alleging that the Vineyard Wind project, which will be located about 14 miles south of the island, will harm the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. There are only about 400 Right Whales left on the planet. 

The litigation was filed four months after a study found that the waters south of New England are crucial habitat for the Right Whale. Between 2011 and 2019, some 327 unique Right Whales were spotted in the region. Furthermore,  the endangered whales have been sighted in the area south of the Vineyard Wind site every month over the past few years. The study also found consistent use of the area proposed for wind-energy development by a third of the species and nearly a third of breeding females. 

The new suit, like the one filed by the Nantucket residents in August, contends federal authorities did not properly consider how the wind project will harm the whales. It says the National Marine Fisheries Service, did not “properly consider the impact of the project on the survival and recovery of the endangered species in the area.” 

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Right Whale is “one of the most endangered of all large whales, with a long history of human exploitation and no signs of recovery despite protection from whaling since the 1930s.” 

The new lawsuit says that when federal authorities rendered their final approval of the permit for Vineyard Wind they admitted that the “entire 75,614-acre area will be abandoned by commercial fisheries due to difficulties with navigation.” 

In a press release, Ted Hadzi-Antich, a lawyer at TPPF, said that by approving the project, “the federal government trampled the rights of Americans to pursue its misguided goal of developing offshore wind energy at any cost...it violated multiple federal statutes that protect the environment, national security, commercial fishing, and the nation’s food supply.” 

Bonnie Brady is the executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. On Wednesday afternoon, Brady told me, “We tried to work within the system. But the federal permitting system is broken from start to finish. We had no choice but to sue.” 

In addition to their negative impact on fisheries, the proposed offshore projects like Vineyard Wind are a terrible deal for whales, consumers, and wildlife. 

Earlier this year, the US Energy Information Administration reported that offshore wind continues to be one of the most expensive forms of electricity generation. By 2026, the EIA expects producing one megawatt-hour of electricity from offshore wind projects will cost about $121, or more than three times the cost of producing that same amount of energy with natural gas ($37). 

In March, the Biden Administration said it wanted to see 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind installed in U.S. waters by 2030. But installing thousands of offshore wind turbines, each armed with blades more than 100 meters long, will do untold damage to marine bird populations. As Rockefeller University’s Jesse Ausubel told me recently, the ongoing push for offshore wind will require “massive industrialization” of the oceans. 

Indeed, building 30,000 megawatts of capacity – at 10 megawatts per turbine – would require anchoring about 3,000 offshore platforms along the Eastern Seaboard. That’s a staggering number of structures. For comparison, the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, which is one of the most productive offshore oil and gas provinces on the planet, has about offshore 1,900 platforms

Ausubel has also looked at the offshore wind plans proposed by the countries in European Union. He said the EU’s plans for 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity would “alone require acreage of about 100,000 square kilometers or about two-thirds the surface of the Baltic or Black Seas or a bit less than half the land area of Great Britain plus Ireland.” He added, “Environmentalists have not yet grasped the massive industrialization of the oceans now underway and proposed.”

Among the few entities that will benefit if projects like Vineyard Wind get built are foreign companies. Vineyard Wind is owned by Avangrid Renewables (a subsidiary of Spanish utility Iberdrola,) and the Danish firm, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Britain’s BP, Norway’s Equinor, and Denmark’s Ørsted are also pushing to develop several thousand megawatts of offshore wind capacity in US waters.

It’s time to end the hype about offshore wind and the giveaways to foreign corporations. Let’s hope these lawsuits succeed and they scuttle the offshore wind business once and for all. I’ll end by saying once again that if policymakers are serious about decarbonizing the electric grid, they need to get serious about nuclear energy. 

 

Robert Bryce is the host of the Power Hungry Podcast, producer of the documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World, and author, most recently, of A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations.



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