NEW BEDFORD – For Maureen Bornholdt of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the move toward wind power off the shores of Massachusetts is a never-ending series of meetings. Though it consumes 60 percent of her time, Bornholdt says it’s key to the process.
“We’ve held close to 40 public meetings,” she said Tuesday following a public meeting at the Whaling Museum. “That’s just about Massachusetts” and Rhode Island.
Bornholdt and other wind industry officials discussed their latest work at a meeting on leasing and transmission, two questions at the center of the nascent energy sector.
Based out of her agency’s Virginia headquarters, Bornholdt is program manager for the bureau’s offshore renewable energy program. She manages all the activities along the Atlantic Coast, as well as developing all the policies for the agency’s entire renewable energy portfolio.
June 18 began the 60-day public comment period relative to the leasing of areas off Southeastern Massachusetts slated to host wind infrastructure. Kicking off that period was a meeting Monday in Martha’s Vineyard and a second on Tuesday.
“This is much more efficient, to invest the time talking to people and the tribes and the state and the feds, taking the time now to have those conversations, make decisions based on public input – that’s a really efficient use of our time,” Bornholdt said.
The lease areas that define where the turbines will operate were outlined by the bureau with public comment in mind. Located 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, the final map breaks the Wind Energy Area into four zones, each of which can be leased by one developer.
Out of concerns for sea ducks, fishing and other activities raised by the public, the Wind Energy Area was reduced to a fraction of its original proposed size. It now encompasses about 1,868 square miles.
By year’s end, officials are expecting to finalize the leases, and it could be another 10 years of planning and permitting before construction begins.
Also at the Tuesday’s meeting were officials from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, tasked with overseeing the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal. Mass. CEC’s Tyler Studds responded to concerns about the resilience of the turbines.
He said a meteorological tower in the ocean will provide data good enough to convince investors, while advances in laser technology could also help make the case.
Jim Kendall of New Bedford Seafood Consulting called into question the foundation of the industry – the placement of turbines in the ocean.
“The conditions out there are not something you’re going to simulate with a tower or engineering marvels,” Kendall said.
“The longevity out there on the ocean is generally much shorter than what most people think.”
Beth Casoni of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association expressed concern over the navigability of the Wind Energy Area’s four zones, potentially operated by various companies.
“Once they’re there, they’re there,” Casoni said. “A whole way of life for these fishermen will never go back to what it was.”