NEW BEDFORD – The sheer scale of the 3,000-square-mile area of federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket recently opened for wind-turbine leases has many in the fishing industry worried.
An open meeting at the Whaling Museum today will offer fishermen and the public a closer look at the proposal.
The Obama administration announced in December its intention to encourage wind energy development in federal waters off Massachusetts and elsewhere by offering leases. The Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, part of the U.S. Department of Interior, has put out a request to measure the wind industry’s interest in the area.
Massachusetts waters extend only 3 miles from the coast, while the federal government has jurisdiction from there out 200 miles. The boundaries for the proposed area were drawn up by the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Task Force in partnership with BOEMRE.
“Looking at the gridded map, it seems like they are going to take the whole Nantucket Lightship area away from us and about 80 percent of the Great South Channel area,” said Paul Wessecker, the owner of three New Bedford scallop vessels. “These are some of the most lucrative fishing grounds that we have.”
In addition to potentially closing these areas, Wessecker worries that catch limits could also be reduced.
“They might deduct the scallops that are in there from the overall biomass,” he said. “That could cut our days in half.”
Offshore turbines in these waters have the potential to generate up to 4,000 megawatts of wind energy, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. That is an amount equivalent to all of the electricity now generated by coal-fired plants currently operating in Massachusetts, officials say.
Today’s meeting is sponsored by a company called Fishermen’s Energy, made up of principals in several New Jersey-based fishing companies.
“I don’t think that the fishing industry is fully aware of the scale of development planned for offshore wind. Our goal for the meeting is to widen the dialogue within the fishing community,” said Rhonda Jackson, director of communications for Fishermen’s Energy. It is not yet clear whether fishing vessels will be allowed to work inside the development areas, she said.
Fishermen’s Energy was established to enable those in the fishing industry to also have a stake in offshore wind energy, she said.
Her company already has agreed to erect several turbines near Atlantic City, N.J., and that project is in the permitting stages.
The state will conduct its own hearings on the area south of the Islands, beginning later this winter, according to Lisa Capone, press secretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
On Feb. 28, the United Fishermen’s Club on Orchard Street will be the venue for a similar meeting, planned by the Massa chusetts Institute of Technology Sea Grant program. That meeting is one of six planned for the east and west coasts of the United States.
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