Vineyarders are set to stake their claim for a site for future wind energy generation, as the bidding process begins for wind power leases across a vast swath of federal waters south of the Island.
At a meeting last night of Vineyard Power, the cooperative set up with the aim of securing stable, renewable electricity for the Island, members were briefed on the attributes of various potential sites. They now will have about a week to vote on their preferred site.
The cooperative must put in its bid before the end of the month, the deadline imposed by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement for expressions of interest.
A Request for Interest (RFI) was issued on Dec. 29, the first step in what is anticipated to be a three-year process toward leasing some 3,000 square miles of federal waters, extending in an arc from Rhode Island around the south of the Vineyard and Nantucket and up almost to Cape Cod, for offshore wind development.
“What we’re doing is putting a place marker on the map,” said Vineyard Power president Richard Andre.
“We’re not making a commitment to develop anything yet, but we need to have the real estate claimed. Otherwise if the date goes by, somebody else could have claimed it.”
The members’ decision will be aided by an interactive map developed for Vineyard Power by Tyler Studds, which includes some 50 overlays. The map also can be viewed by the general public at Vineyard Power’s Web site.
Thus people can see where the areas earmarked for wind development coincide with lobster habitat, or whale habitat, for example.
And that, Mr. Andre said, will be important to co-op members.
“A lot of developers, commercial developers, will just look at straight economic viability, of a particular location,” he said. “We’re looking at the economics of course, but we’re also layering on what our members’ preferences are, our communities’ preferences. Surveys amongst our members have shown us impact on wildlife is very important to them, impact on commercial fishing is very important, visuals – what the turbines look like from the shore – are very important. So now we are at a point where we can say certain sites make more sense than others.”
Even after a preferred site is decided, though, there remain “many more bridges to cross” and many variables to consider.
Much depends on the degree of support from Islanders. To achieve its goal of economically viable, Island-based electricity generation, stabilizing electricity prices by 2015 and then lowering them, the cooperative needs the support of a strong majority of Islanders, it says.
To date, it has attracted a membership of just over 1,000, a number Mr. Andre called “fantastic.”
“We have a fairly large objective, but we’re very comfortable with where we are,” he said.
Other decisions yet to be made include the size of any possible wind farm and whether Vineyard Power would be a developer in its own right, or in partnership. “We have always said our members will have choices: whether we go it alone, or partner up with a developer now, or partner up with a developer later,” Mr. Andre said. “None of that has changed. Much is still to be decided. All our members will be deciding on now is an application for a site where future development might be.”
But the RFI deadline of Feb. 28 will be a milestone, not only for Vineyard Power but for the state and federal agencies seeking to determine the level of developer interest in establishing wind farms.
If there is sufficient interest, there will be a competitive bidding process; if not, the Bureau of Energy Management will proceed with a noncompetitive process.
Next Thursday officials from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, along with the Coast Guard, will hold two information sessions at the Oak Bluffs Public Library.
The first of them, starting at 3 p.m., will focus on commercial fishing issues, with the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association.
The second, at 5 p.m. will be for those with other concerns.
“The meetings are designed to provide public officials, the fishing industry, local residents and others with information on the RFI process to date and outline next steps,” said a state press release announcing the forums.
Public comments can be submitted to the federal agency until Feb. 28.
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