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Interior Department approves first large-scale offshore wind farm in U.S.

The Biden administration on Tuesday approved the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the United States, a project that envisions building 62 turbines off Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and creating enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.

Vineyard Wind is the first of a series of massive offshore wind farm proposals that could put more than 3,000 wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to North Carolina. The Biden administration has committed to processing the other 13 projects currently under federal review by 2025 in an attempt to meet the administration's ambitious goal of producing 30,000 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind by 2030, powering some 10 million homes.

The goal is part of the Biden administration's effort to fight climate change by shifting away from fossil fuels.

"I believe that a clean energy future is within our grasp in the United States," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a conference call on Tuesday, describing the approval of Vineyard Wind as "a significant milestone in our efforts to build a clean and more equitable energy future while addressing the climate emergency."

Biden administration officials said that the Vineyard Wind project will create about 3,600 jobs for American workers.

So far, just two offshore pilot projects are currently operational - one off Rhode Island and the other off Virginia. Together, their seven turbines produce 42 megawatts of electricity.

The scope of the coming projects are far larger and have generated opposition from some coastal communities and commercial fishermen. Environmentalists have also raised concerns about the potential impact on fish, birds, and marine mammals, including the North Atlantic right whale, a critically endangered species that migrates through swaths of ocean designated for wind farm construction.

Vineyard Wind is a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables, a U.S. offshoot of the Spanish energy company, Iberdrola; and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners out of Denmark. Europe's offshore wind industry is decades ahead of the United States and European firms at this point dominate the industry and its supply chain.

Vineyard Wind's construction is expected to begin later this year, with work on the onshore substation in Barnstable, Mass., where the cables from the turbines will reach the land. More cabling and other work is expected next year and construction on the turbines themselves is planned for 2023 and 2024.

The Vineyard Wind project has been more than a decade in the making; the first meetings to talk about possible locations for the wind farm were in 2009. Along the way, the project size was reduced by 60% and turbines were spaced 1 nautical mile apart in response to concern from commercial fishermen and others.

Vineyard Wind developers have agreed to pay $37.7 million to commercial fishermen in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to compensate them for future losses.

 

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