NEW BEDFORD – Federal officials came to New Bedford Tuesday for what was described as an early step in the process of authorizing offshore wind turbines. A series of meetings was held in the city seeking comment on a 350-square-mile area of the outer continental shelf identified by Massachusetts and Rhode Island for possible wind energy development.
The northeast corner of this area is located approximately 12 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and the area extends westward into Block Island Sound.
The meetings were scheduled by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement to seek comment from the public, the fishing industry and environmentalists on issues related to wind development in this area.
At an evening meeting, held in the theater at the Corson Building on William Street, Maureen A. Bornholdt, program manager for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement’s Office of Offshore Alternative Energy Programs explained that the meetings were officially designated as a Call for Information and Nominations. “The Call asks developers if they are interested in this area and if so what type of project they envision,” she said.
This Call is just the beginning of a complex and lengthy process that will likely take years. Even after any lease is granted, an interested party will have up to five years to conduct a site assessment. If a developer then decides to move ahead, and the bureau approves the construction and operations plan, the lease allows the developer up to 25 years to construct the turbines.
Developers will also be required to post bonds at every step of the process, Bornholdt said. And if a lease is not renewed they will be fully responsible for dismantling any turbines “up to 15 feet below the mud line.”
During the public comment period, Sharon Young who represents the Humane Society of the United Stated on marine issues, noted that a large aggregation of plankton-feeding Atlantic right whales had been observed in this area in the spring. Young worried that turbines would displace marine mammals such as whales and harbor porpoises.
The relationship between commercial fishing and offshore wind power development was addressed by representatives from the fisheries working group at an earlier meeting at the Wharfinger Building. Seafood consultant Jim Kendall pointed out that the proposed area was heavily fished by small inshore boats. Studies of the area had not accounted for their activities he said. “They are not required to carry the vessel monitoring system mandatory on offshore vessels and you have no data on their movements,” he said. Describing plans to designate fishing grounds for alternative energy sites as a “taking,” Kendall said: “You could not do this on land.”
The public comment period expires Oct. 3. For more information, visit boemre.gov/offshore/RenewableEnergy.