Vineyard Wind pauses U.S. permitting over switch to GE turbines

An offshore wind farm is seen from Great Yarmouth, Britain, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

(Reuters) - Vineyard Wind, which is developing the first major U.S. offshore wind farm, has temporarily withdrawn the project from the federal permitting process so the company can incorporate turbines from a new supplier, General Electric Co, in its design.

The move, which requires a technical review that will last several weeks, will almost certainly delay a federal decision over whether to approve the project until after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

Calling the decision to pause the permitting process “difficult,” Vineyard Wind Chief Executive Lars Pedersen said in a statement issued on Tuesday that he hoped it would help avoid further delays.

The company still expects the project to begin delivering power in 2023. It is designed to generate enough electricity for more than 400,000 customers in Massachusetts.

Vineyard Wind has suffered a string of permitting delays since 2019 due to concerns that the project’s wind turbines will harm fisheries and navigation.

Because of the switch to GE’s higher-capacity Haliade-X technology, the project will use just 62 turbines instead of the 84 it had originally planned, according to spokesman Andrew Doba. Previously, Vineyard Wind proposed using Vestas Wind System A/S’ V164 turbines, but that contract expired earlier this year.

A spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is overseeing the federal permitting process, said on Wednesday it had received and was reviewing Vineyard Wind’s letter withdrawing its construction plan from consideration.

ClearView Energy Partners analysts said the pause reduced the risk of a permit denial by the outgoing Trump administration, and added that purchasing GE turbines could align with Biden’s support for domestic trade unions.

Vineyard Wind is a joint venture between Avangrid Inc’s Avangrid Renewables unit and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino and Nichola Groom; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler