Finally an offshore wind development plan for the ocean off Martha’s Vineyard has found broad acceptance.
In sharp contrast to the controversy which dogged every public meeting about the Cape Wind development in Nantucket Sound, a presentation last night about plans for a far larger development off the Island’s south shore went remarkably smoothly.
State and federal bureaucrats who convened for the information session at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven found themselves more congratulated than criticized over the process by which they will allocate leases for wind power generation over some 1,300 square miles of ocean to our south.
Instead of argument, the meeting dealt mostly in information, about the need for alternative energy, about the capacity of offshore wind to deliver it, and about the process by which state and federal agencies plan to provide for its generation.
On the first point, the need for new energy sources, the officials produced some arresting statistics. The total amount Massachusetts residents spend on fuel, mostly fossil fuel, each year, is $22 billion – about $5,000 per person.
Most of that money – about 80 per cent – is exported, to Canada, other parts of the U.S., Central America and the Middle East.
The state has set a goal of producing 15 per cent of its power needs from renewable sources by 2020, which, along with other efficiencies would cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent.
That means harvesting 2,000 megawatts from wind and 250 from solar power. But, said Bill White, assistant secretary for federal affairs with the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, there is a long way to go to meet those targets. Currently the state generates just 40 megawatts from wind power, all of it onshore.
Meanwhile, the windy offshore areas of the state offer the prospect of “staggering” amounts of power, he said. As a result, state and federal authorities are cooperating to refine the process for developing offshore wind farms.
They are now only part way through phase one of a four-stage process, the planning and assessment phase, said Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for offshore energy for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management and Enforcement.
The beginning is identifying an area, running in a broad arc from southwest of the Vineyard out past Nantucket and northward, some 3,000 square miles in all. Stakeholders were invited to comment on the suitability of the area for such development at the same time as potential developers were asked for expressions of interest in leasing parts of it.
That part of the process yielded some 250 comments and 11 expressions of development interest. Interestingly, few of those offering submissions were concerned about the view, as was the case with Cape Wind project. The main subjects of comment were the prospects for community ownership of projects, shipping and navigation, fisheries and concern about wildlife.
As a result of the comment, particularly concern about fishing, the area has been reduced by some 56 per cent. Among the 11 expressions of interest in developing, many included areas which have now been excluded from leasing. There was considerable overlap of others. One proponent has since withdrawn.
The next step was to determine if the remaining 10 would-be developers were legally qualified to bid. Ms. Bornholdt said eight had been found eligible and the assessment of the other two continues. She outlined a continuing process of more comment from stakeholders, more public meetings and a decision on whether the leases would be competitive or noncompetitive.
Once a final prospective area has been determined and leases issued, she said, proponents would have five years to collect relevant data about archeological, biological and geophysical and technical issues. Those in turn will be assessed by BOEMRE and other agencies, and assuming the proponents get through that, a construction and operation plan, with a final environmental impact statement. In the end the proponent would get a 25-year license, after which the turbines would have to be removed, unless the project continues operating, in which case it would be reviewed again.
The audience of 50 or so people listened to the details of the process, and there were no significant objections. Douglas Sederholm, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said if the authorities had been as responsive to community concerns over Cape Wind, it never would have been built.
County manager Russell Smith outlined reasons he considered the RFI a better option for offshore wind than another area further west, the so-called area of mutual interest between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The geology is better, it was not in the middle of a migrating bird flyway, it was subject to less fishing, less recreational boating, had better data collected on it, less impact on viewscapes, Mr. Smith said.
Others asked about the technology, the cost effectiveness of the proposal and the prospects for benefit to the local economy.
One clear opponent was Audra Parker of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the group started in opposition to Cape Wind. She said the power would cost two and a half times as much as power does now, but Mr. White took issue with the figures, saying the cost was less than double and would decline over time.
The most novel suggestion of the night came from one man who noted that the U.S. military spent “$2 million a minute.” He asked why could the Pentagon not just park an aircraft carrier out there with a couple of turbines mounted on it, and see what happens.