Massachusetts and federal officials have designated a 3,000-square-mile swath of ocean south of Cape Cod and the Islands available to lease to developers of commercial-scale offshore wind farms.
State officials and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced Tuesday a “request for interest” to find out where in the area developers might want to pursue projects.
The area begins about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and about 24 miles south of Nantucket. It extends more than 35 miles out to sea.
By comparison, the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm would be about five miles from the nearest land. It is not affected by the newly announced leasing area.
“(This) begins a process that will lead to up to 4,000 megawatts of wind energy installed far off our shores – enough electricity to power 1.7 million households and equal to the electricity currently generated by all the coal-fired plants in Massachusetts – and take this new U.S. industry from infancy to maturity,” Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said Tuesday.
Information from developers and public comment will be collected before a formal leasing process, which will include an environmental review, Bowles said.
A task force that helped develop the request for interest will continue to meet and use public comments and new information to determine where leases for offshore wind are appropriate, he said.
“This is a multi-layered, ongoing, science-based review process,” he said.
But Vineyard residents continued to express concerns about offshore wind farms in state and federal waters, including the impact of turbines on fishing grounds and whether the projects will be visible from shore.
“Beyond that, I think that Martha’s Vineyard would like to see a community benefit if there is going to be wind development and it is going to affect the island in some way,” said Douglas Sederholm, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
Vineyard fishermen have major concerns about the impact of turbines on navigation, said Michele Jones, secretary of the Dukes County Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen Association.
“First of all, the windmills will clutter radar so you won’t be able to depend on your radar on your vessel,” she said, adding that the turbines will make rescues more difficult and crowd fishermen into smaller areas.
It isn’t clear if fishermen will be allowed to work in the turbine area, she said of the possibility that insurers will require offshore wind energy developers to exclude vessels in the area.
For the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) the process is the immediate problem, tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said.
The federal government is required to consult the tribe but hasn’t yet, she said, adding that task force meetings are no substitute for formal discussions.
Attorney and former state representative Eric Turkington, who is legal counsel for a nonprofit group called POINT concerned with wind development on and around the islands, said the original premise of studying the area first and seeking leases later appears to have fallen by the wayside.
“I hope it isn’t the same scenario that we saw with Cape Wind where the developers decide where they want to go and the government officials fall in line behind them,” he said.
Science eliminated large areas south of Nantucket because of duck populations, Bowles said. And, public concerns over the visual impact of the turbines led federal officials to move the leasing area three miles further offshore south of the Vineyard, he said.
Opponents of offshore wind energy should remember that current sources of energy from coal and oil are located much closer to communities that are then affected by burning of fossil fuels, he said.
In New Bedford, the leasing areas mean jobs and the revitalization of its port, New Bedford Economic Development Council executive director Matthew Morrissey said. Cape Wind has fueled interest in Massachusetts as a “first mover” in the offshore wind industry, he said.
“There are very substantial opportunities for not just New Bedford but for other places,” he said, adding that European ports are examples of how offshore wind energy projects can help local maritime-based economies.
The state also announced Tuesday that it would develop a research and development program to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy.
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will partner with, and provide matching funding to, Massachusetts research institutions and offshore wind developers to win federal funding. The goal will be to reduce the cost of offshore wind 40 percent by the end of the decade and 60 percent by 2030 or to between 7 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a press release from Bowles’ office.
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