BUZZARDS BAY – Some local officials are feeling better about planning for renewable energy projects that could pop up in federal waters south of the Cape and Islands.
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which replaced the U.S. Minerals Management Service in overseeing offshore energy and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf, has agreed to substantially reduce an area that could be opened for federal leases.
The new area for federal leases begins 12 miles offshore, three miles farther out to sea than some locations in an earlier draft leasing plan, said Deerin Babb-Brott, state assistant secretary for Oceans and Coastal Zone Management. The planning area covers 2,542 square nautical miles, 1,300 square nautical miles less than originally proposed.
The announcement came yesterday during a meeting at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The federal, state, local and tribal officials serve on a state task force formed last year to consider renewable energy projects in federal waters.
Lease area reduced
Federal and state officials have removed much of the Nantucket Shoals from the leasing area and have considered effects on fisheries and ecologically significant habitats, Babb-Brott said yesterday.
The task force will have 10 days to comment on the newest draft of a request to developers to say whether they are interested in the federal offshore area, he said. Federal officials will consider those comments as they finalize the request, which could be published as early as this fall, said Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Office of Offshore Alternative Energy Programs.
Although the public has not been involved in drafting the federal planning document, there will be opportunities for public input once it is published, Bornholdt said.
The Massachusetts task force – one of several that are being formed or are already meeting in states along the East Coast – has prompted a better understanding of concerns regarding cultural and historic resources, Bornholdt said.
Yesterday’s meeting appeared to put many local officials more at ease with the planning process. “The dialogue is useful,” said Mark London, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
“This process seems to be better,” said Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington.
Still better, said Washington and George “Chuckie” Green, historic preservation officer for the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, would be if the leasing area is pushed out to 21 miles offshore, where the curvature of the earth would obscure any turbines completely.
Cape Wind spin
Despite the continued discussions over how far offshore is far enough, federal and state officials appeared to be listening to the tribes and other concerned local officials and citizens, Green and others said. This is a far cry from their participation in deciding on the location for the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, they said.
“It’s different from our previous experience,” said Cape Cod Commission executive director Paul Niedzwiecki. Cape Wind would not “pass muster” under a similar planning process, he said.
Commission officials are particularly interested in some of the habitat data that is being analyzed, as well as the assessment of visual impacts, he said, adding that the commission is undergoing a similar exercise locally as part of the state Ocean Management Plan.
The state plan, which covers renewable energy projects in waters up to three miles off the coast, has not garnered the same praise as the federal planning process.
Under the state plan, areas southwest of Nomans Land and the Elizabeth Islands could host commercial-scale wind farms. An area farther to the southwest, where Rhode Island and Massachusetts officials have agreed to work together on offshore wind energy planning, could also host turbines that would mar the view from the island, Washington said.
If it is built, Cape Wind would be located in federal waters northeast of the Vineyard.
“You want to talk about visual impact?” Washington said of plans for wind turbines in state waters.
“Other than the north side, (Martha’s Vineyard) is surrounded.”