BAKER NOT CONCERNED BY TRUMP'S WIND COMMENTS
BOSTON – The future of Vineyard Wind is on hold amid a longer-than-expected federal review and President Donald Trump dismissed wind power as costly "dreams" this week, but Gov. Charlie Baker said he is not concerned that the government has any plans to block the offshore wind project.
Federal regulators, who have been auctioning off ocean tracts to wind energy developers, jolted the offshore wind industry this month when they announced that a key environmental impact statement Vineyard Wind needs to advance, originally expected by March 2020 at the latest, would be paused to allow for a broader study of the effects that such turbines would cause.
Baker, who moments earlier touted the implementation of a statewide partnership to enact a climate-resiliency plan, told reporters Wednesday that he remains confident about the project's future, describing his conversations with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and officials at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as productive despite the uncertainty.
"When I went to see Bernhardt the first time, he had read the entire Vineyard Wind submission, which, truth be told, I haven't read the entire Vineyard Wind submission, and he knew it and knew it cold," Baker said. "So at this point, he's the regulator, he's the decision-maker, I'm taking him at his word on this stuff."
In response to appeals from the states, developers are putting a slate of proposals before the government to build offshore wind farms along the East Coast, in waters where commercial fishing interests have long worked.
Trump has recently criticized wind power despite the federal government's efforts to develop the renewable source into a greater portion of the country's energy infrastructure. In a speech in Pennsylvania this month, he praised fossil fuels such as natural gas over "big windmills that destroy everybody's property values, kill all the birds" and rely on circumstances such as wind blowing.
On Monday, he was asked at a G7 press conference how the world should address climate change and responded by describing "tremendous wealth" in the United States.
"I'm not going to lose that wealth, I'm not going to lose it on dreams, on windmills, which, frankly, aren't working too well," Trump said.
While Trump has knocked the industry, it has already been a profitable boon for the government: the Department of Interior dubbed a December 2018 auction for ocean tracts off the coast of Massachusetts that netted $405 million a "BIDDING BONANZA."
Baker implied that he does not see a connection between the president's remarks and the Trump administration's delay of Vineyard Wind to allow for additional review.
Asked if he was concerned that the Trump administration was trying to slow-walk the nation's first utility-scale offshore wind farm until it was no longer viable, Baker praised Bernhardt and BOEM for their accessibility.
"They have been very open-door in the way they handled us and the way they handled the other players on this," Baker said. "His level of understanding and appreciation for both the key issues associated not just with this project but with all these other projects is exactly what we would hope for when dealing with a federal regulator."
The 84-turbine wind farm, planned for 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard, is vying to become the first utility-scale offshore wind infrastructure in the country. It is expected to deliver 800 megawatts of energy per year.
Massachusetts chose Vineyard Wind to fulfill a requirement laid out in a 2016 clean energy law, and project officials had been hoping to begin construction later this year to take advantage of a tax credit set to expire at the end of 2019.
Vineyard Wind initially said delaying the environmental impact statement could jeopardize the project before reaffirming their commitment to completing it, albeit on a new timeline. On Wednesday, Baker said that state officials would have to remain within lines drawn by the bid process, but would be "flexible" about revamping the schedule.
Earlier this month, amid the fallout from announcement of the additional review, BOEM did not explicitly repeat its previous commitment to complete its work on Vineyard Wind by March 2020. Instead, the office only said it would converse with colleagues on "potential permitting delays that may result from additional environmental review."
But Baker said Wednesday he was told the initial federal timeline remains in play.
"(Bernhardt) felt that the March 2020 date was a date they could achieve, and that is the date that Vineyard Wind is assuming they're playing toward that they believe could make this happen," Baker said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Baker gathered with other administration officials to mark the launch of the Resilient MA Action Team, which will be tasked with implementing a hazard mitigation and climate adaptation plan drafted last year.
The plan combines managing the effects of climate change and federally mandated emergency preparation in what Baker administration officials describe as a first-in-the-nation effort. The first steps toward enacting it will include ensuring the state's budget fully incorporates climate resiliency efforts and updating standards to ensure that new development is based on climate change data.
One key focus, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Undersecretary Jeanne Benincasa-Thorpe said during the event, is shifting disaster response to improve communities rather than restore them.
"As educated adults in this room, we understand that you don't rebuild to where it was," she said. "We need to rebuild further than that."