An image showing South Fork offshore wind project site location offshore Rhode Island

South Fork OWF Draft EIS Out

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the South Fork offshore wind farm and will open a 45-day public comment period on 8 January.

South Fork Wind; Ørsted/Eversource

After the public consultation period, BOEM will address all received comments and publish a Final EIS, which is expected to be done in August, with the environmental review and permitting process anticipated to be completed in January 2022.

The South Fork Draft EIS incorporates the expanded cumulative scenario and analysis of future offshore wind development from the Supplement to the Draft EIS for the Vineyard Wind 1 project. To remind, Vineyard Wind in the meantime temporarily withdrew its Construction and Operation Plan (COP) to tweak the plans after the inclusion of GE’s 13 MW Haliade-X wind turbines into the final project design.

For the South Fork project, the COP is under review at BOEM, after first being submitted in 2018 and updated a few times last year. The updated COP comprises changes to the lease boundaries and the turbine layout to address navigational safety issues raised by the commercial fishing industry.

Just like for the Vineyard Wind, the South Fork Draft EIS discusses a transit lane alternative that puts a 4 NM transit lane through the project site, which has been developed in response to the Responsible Offshore Development Association (RODA) layout proposal from 3 January 2020. For the Vineyard Wind project, transit lane alternatives with 4 NM lanes raised concerns with the developers in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Wind Energy Area, who signed a Joint Developer Agreement Layout. The layout utilises a standard and uniform configuration with 1×1 NM spacing, which is in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard navigational safety requirements.

A 4 NM transit lane within the South Fork site could relocate or eliminate some of the wind turbines and relocate the offshore substation. However, in South Fork’s Draft EIS, this alternative to the developer’s 1×1 NM proposal is deemed as potentially having a similar effect as the original proposal would.

“Although the Transit alternative would reduce the number of WTGs and their associated inter-array cables, which would have an associated reduction in impacts from construction and installation, O&M, and conceptual decommissioning, BOEM expects that the impacts resulting from the alternative alone would be similar to the Proposed Action and range from negligible to minor”, BOEM states.

“In context of other reasonably foreseeable environmental trends and planned actions, BOEM also expects that the Transit alternative’s incremental impacts would be similar to the Proposed Action (with individual IPFs leading to impacts ranging from negligible to moderate). The overall impacts of the Transit alternative when combined with past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities would therefore be the same level as under the Proposed Action: moderate”.

Once the EIS is finalized, BOEM will use the findings to inform its decision on whether to approve South Fork Wind’s proposed project.

“BOEM remains committed to a permitting process that reduces potential conflicts with other important uses of the ocean, such as fishing, while establishing a strong foundation for wind projects moving forward”, said BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank. “The feedback provided by our many stakeholders will help inform the Final Environmental Impact Statement and provide invaluable insight to decision makers”.

The South Fork project, developed by Ørsted and Eversource, would comprise up to 15 wind turbines installed around 30 kilometres (19 miles) southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island, and some 56 kilometres (35 miles) east of Montauk Point, New York. The output of the wind turbines to be used would be between 6 MW and 12 MW.

The lease for the project site was awarded to Deepwater Wind, the company that developed the first U.S. offshore wind farm off Block Island. Deepwater Wind was acquired by Ørsted in 2018.