PROVIDENCE – Responding to environmental concerns about the project’s potential impact on migrating North Atlantic right whales, Deepwater Wind LLC has agreed to restrict construction at the site of the utility-scale Deepwater One offshore wind farm during periods of high whale activity.
In a teleconference on Wednesday morning, Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski and leaders of the Conservation Law Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation said Deepwater’s voluntary decision set “an important national precedent” that will help advance offshore wind as a viable energy alternative while protecting marine wildlife.
“By working with CLF and our partners to protect North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals, Deepwater Wind shows that offshore wind can achieve its potential to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels while maintaining great sensitivity to our important natural resources,” said Tricia K. Jedele, vice president and director of Conservation Law Foundation’s Rhode Island Advocacy Center.
With between 400-500 whales remaining in the wild, the North Atlantic right whale is considered a critically endangered species, said Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The whales, which were once hunted to near-extinction, continue to face threats such as collisions with ships, pollution of their natural habitats, and underwater noise that disrupts their behavior and ability to communicate, Jasny said.
Under the agreement announced Wednesday, construction and site assessment activities most likely to produce harmful underwater noise or increase the likelihood of collisions – such as pile driving and sub-bottom profiling – would be prohibiting during spring when right whales are most likely to frequent the area of the Deepwater One site.
In addition, the agreement imposes a 10-knot speed limit for all project vessels between Nov. 1 and May 15, and requires Deepwater to reduce pile-driving noise using technology developed for the European offshore wind market and to implement surveillance measures to detect whales in the area during the off-season.
“At the end of the day we’re very thrilled we were able to collectively come to a place where we believe we can continue development of this important wind-farm site while protecting marine mammals and in particular the North Atlantic right whale,” said Grybowski.
Deepwater Wind had previously reached a similar agreement to restrict construction activities with respect to right whales for the Block Island Wind Farm, Grybowski added, which is currently awaiting a vote by the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council on May 13 on whether to grant final approval to the project.
The Deepwater One project is located in Rhode Island Sound and would cover approximately 256 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 30 miles east of Montauk, N.Y. an,d roughly 17 miles south of Rhode Island, between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Construction at the Deepwater One site could begin as early as 2017, with commercial operations by 2018, the company said in a release. Deepwater One is expected to produce enough energy to power approximately 120,000 homes annually.
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