State officials have asked the federal government to reduce the size of the area open for wind power developments south of the Vineyard by almost 60 per cent, out of concern for the fishing industry.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission also has weighed in with objections to the federal plan to open up some 3,000 square miles of ocean south of the Vineyard, criticizing the haste with which the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) was proceeding, and calling for more study of the potential impacts of development.
The deadline for both comments and expressions of interest from potential developers – extended from February at the state’s request so it could study potential negative effects, particularly on fisheries – was on Monday.
As originally laid out, the so-called Massachusetts Requests for Interest plan encompassed an area extending in a broad arc beginning at the Rhode Island border southwest of the Vineyard and extending 90 nautical miles eastward, then north around Nantucket, and as close as 12 miles to the Vineyard.
The state’s submission, if accepted, would see the area available for wind generation cut to 1,300 square miles, and exclude shipping lanes and areas identified by a state fisheries working group as important to the Massachusetts fishing industry.
The state proposal would cut out the eastern half of the RFI area, to protect the Nantucket shoals, a major fishing ground.
“This proposal will enable Massachusetts to lead the country in a burgeoning offshore wind industry, while also protecting our vibrant commercial fishing industry that is so vital to our economy,” said Gov. Deval Patrick in a statement.
In its submission, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission expressed concern that BOEMRE was taking expressions of interest from those seeking to lease blocks for development even as it sought comments on the plan.
“The fact that this RFI is taking place before there has been any comprehensive marine spatial planning for the area remains worrisome,” the comments said in part.
The MVC compared the federal process unfavorably with the planning which Massachusetts and particularly Rhode Island had conducted ahead of opening up state waters for potential wind generation.
“Our concern is that, once developers have selected certain blocks for development as required by the RFI, it will be difficult to relocate projects, especially after the developers have invested considerable time and money in studies of their original blocks, to say nothing about the increased political and community expectations that a project would move ahead expeditiously,” the commission said.
Among the recommendations the commission made were further mapping of fish resources and other assurances that fishing activity not be impeded by the construction of turbines.
Turbines should be lined up, and their connecting cables should be laid out so as to minimize the risk of boats snagging them. The wind farm developers should pay for insurance to cover the risks of fishing within wind farms “including harm to individuals and damage to boats and cables,” the commission said.
It also expressed concern about danger to bird life and suggested a protocol to shut down turbines during fog at peak migration times. It called for more study of the potential effects on whales.
The commission advocated that the federal government take steps to encourage the participation of town and community-owned wind energy projects, such as the Island’s nascent cooperative, Vineyard Power.
And it suggested the relevant federal authorities “require, or at least encourage” developers to establish mitigation funds for adjacent communities.
As of yesterday, BOEMRE had not released the list of developers who had bid for blocks in the RFI area. Vineyard Power has put in its expression of interest.
Meanwhile, the proposed Cape Wind development on the other side of the Island won approval from the federal government for its 800-page construction and operations plan, the final step before beginning construction.
Work could now start on the 130 turbine project as early as this fall, the only remaining impediments being unresolved legal action by project opponents.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the decision on Tuesday in Boston, calling the approval an “important final step” toward “ushering in our nation’s first offshore wind energy facility while creating jobs.”
The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has opposed the project throughout its 10-year history, promised to continue its legal fight, and noted the project still must secure financing and secure contracts for the sale of half the power it will produce.
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