Federal officials designated a large swath of ocean about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard yesterday as the potential site for a massive wind farmthat would dwarf Cape Wind, the long-stalled project that is planned for Nantucket Sound.
After two years of meetings with local and state officials, environmental groups, and others, including local tribes, officials at the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said they are launching an environmental assessment of about 1,300 square miles that could give rise to hundreds of soaring wind turbines within several years.
They said the area could produce as much as 4,000 megawatts, 10 times as much electricity as the proposed Cape Wind project, which is slated to sprawl over 25 square miles. That is enough, they said, to power up to 70 percent of homes in Massachusetts.
“There is great potential here, because there is a lot of wind,’’ Tommy P. Beaudreau, the bureau’s director, said at a press conference at the state’s Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown.
Beaudreau said meetings since late 2009 resulted in the agency’s decision to reduce the size of the original proposed area by 50 percent. He said the meetings also helped air concerns about the effects of the turbines on wildlife such as migrating whales and birds, and other factors, such as the routes fishermen use to trawl for scallops and other fish.
“Our efforts to identify promising wind energy areas . . . and address conflicts will pay enormous dividends in the future,’’ he said. “The heavy lifting by the task force to get us to today will minimize the conflicts that can threaten to derail or delay projects like these.’’
He expects an environmental review to be finished within a year and said the agency would probably seek bids on potential projects shortly afterward. The area could be developed by several companies, which would lease the submerged land from the federal government. Federal officials said Massachusetts would be ineligible for royalties, because the land is beyond 3 nautical miles.
The proposed wind farm, one of a host of similar offshore renewable energy projects the Obama administration is promoting around the country, has already begun to spark concerns similar to those of Cape Wind, which is still fighting lawsuits and looking for utilities to buy its power more than a decade after it proposed becoming the nation’s first major offshore wind project. Among the concerns is the potential impact on pristine coastal views.
“Obviously, our main concern with this project is the distance and the viewshed, how our fishing grounds are going to be affected, and any impact on archeological artifacts,’’ said Bettina Washington, historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
The tribe has asked the federal government to ensure that any wind farm be built more than 20 miles offshore, which is about where it is no longer visible from land.
Opponents of Cape Wind, which would be built about 5 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, have long urged state and federal officials to build wind farms farther out to sea.
“We’ve always promoted deep-water projects as a better alternative,’’ said Audra Parker, president of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. “But the devil here remains in the details. There are concerns to any offshore wind project. We need to avoid huge costs to ratepayers.’’
Critics of wind projects argue that they are more expensive than traditional energy sources, such as oil and natural gas.
But proponents say the projects make environmental and economic sense, because they reduce the spread of pollutants that contribute to global warming while providing locally developed energy at a fixed cost. They say the price of oil and gas is volatile and likely to rise in coming years.
Offshore wind farms are providing increasing amounts of energy elsewhere in the world, particularly in Asia and Europe, where some wind farms produce as much as 300 megawatts of energy, or about 100 megawatts less than the energy that would be produced by Cape Wind.
Mark Rogers, a spokesman for Cape Wind, said the potential energy that could be generated from the site south of Martha’s Vineyard would be huge. Cape Wind is one of about 10 companies that have expressed interest in bidding on a contract to build at least a part of the proposed wind farm.
“If this site were built at capacity, it would greatly surpass any other source of power in New England from a single site,’’ he said.
While there may be less opposition if the wind turbines cannot be seen from land, there would be other challenges, such as larger waves and greater maintenance expenses, Rogers said.
“Some parts make this very exciting,’’ he said, “and some make it more difficult.’’
At yesterday’s press conference in Charlestown, officials from environmental groups said they want to ensure that the project does not affect migration patterns of whales or birds’ flight paths. But they said offshore wind projects like those proposed off the coast of Massachusetts are the way of the future.
“This is a battle we must win,’’ said Sue Reid, director of the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston. “This is the best way to reduce dirty air.’’
Jack Clarke, a spokesman for the Mass Audubon Society, called the waters where the wind farm would be built “the Saudi Arabia of wind.’’
“We have our concerns, and we need more information,’’ he said. “But we see this as important for the environment.’’
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