Concerns about how Martha’s Vineyard will benefit from a commercial offshore renewable wind energy project 12 nautical miles south of its shores dominated discussion at a public hearing to discuss the proposed leasing process and transmission route at a public meeting Monday night in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Tisbury.
State officials from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) joined representatives from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in providing updates on the latest developments in the commercial leasing process in Massachusetts, as well as the results of transmission and marine mammal studies. About 40 people, including Chilmark and Tisbury selectmen, Martha’s Vineyard Commission staff, and representatives from Vineyard Power, a community-owned energy cooperative, attended the meeting.
Opening the meeting, Bill White, MassCEC senior director for Offshore Wind, referenced an announcement made last week by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick that more than 742,000 acres offshore Massachusetts will be available for commercial wind energy leasing.
Although the proposed area was described as nearly doubling the federal offshore acreage available for commercial-scale wind projects, Mr. White clarified that the Massachusetts wind energy development area has not been doubled.
“In fact, we shrank it over a period of five years by almost 50 percent,” Mr. White said. “Because this area is the largest on the east coast of its size, it essentially doubles the Federal government’s offshore wind area.”
The Federal wind energy area is located approximately 12 miles off Massachusetts. From its northern boundary, the area extends 33 nautical miles southward and has an east/west extent of approximately 47 nautical miles.
Massachusetts collected and presented spatial information and data for the wind energy area regarding marine mammals, birds, ocean floor, geology, commercial ship traffic, and recreational boating as part of the offshore wind planning process, according to a press release. In addition, the state conducted dozens of public meetings and stakeholder sessions to discuss the Federal offshore wind leasing process.
After considering public comments, BOEM decided to exclude certain areas identified as important habitats and of high-value fisheries that could be adversely affected by the installation of wind turbine generators.
Despite the size reduction, Mr. White said the National Renewable Energy Lab is projecting that the Massachusetts wind energy area could generate four to five thousand megawatts of clean electricity for the state, enough to power about half of its homes.
The leasing process
BOEM has already awarded five commercial wind energy leases off the Atlantic coast: two noncompetitive leases, including Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound and an area off Delaware, and three competitive leases, two off Massachusetts-Rhode Island and another off Virginia.
Last August, Deepwater Wind New England won the first auction for offshore wind tracts held by BOEM and was awarded a tract of 164,750 acres for $3.8 million, in an area between Block Island, Rhode Island, and Martha’s Vineyard. Deepwater said none of its turbines will be closer than 13 miles from land and they will be barely visible from shore, according to a Department of the Interior press release.
BOEM Massachusetts project coordinator Jessica Stromberg said Monday night that the bureau proposes to auction the larger Massachusetts wind energy area south of Martha’s Vineyard as four leases. Similar to last year’s auction, it will take place online.
Qualified bidders must be incorporated in the United States. To participate in the auction, eligible companies must submit a minimum bid of $450,000 per lease area, Ms. Stromberg said.
BOEM will use a multiple-factor auction format. In addition to a cash bid, developers may receive non-monetary credits for a community benefit agreement or a power purchase agreement to sell power from the project.
State Representative Tim Madden (D-Nantucket) said he was pleased to see the community benefit included in the auction process, but thought it should not be limited to five percent as specified in the Proposed Sale Notice (PSN).
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel also argued that Martha’s Vineyard deserves more. “I waited with bated breath to see if there’s a public component, and I’m pleased there is but I don’t think it’s enough,” he said. “We’re the primary community that’s going to face the impacts of these turbines.”
Chilmark selectman Warren Doty said that although Martha’s Vineyard is dependent on tourism to create jobs for young people, diverse employment opportunities are always a goal.
“I would like to say to kids that have an interest in wind energy jobs, that they might have a chance at them here,” he said. “I’m afraid we could have hundreds of turbines installed south of Martha’s Vineyard and every vessel, every research job will go to New Bedford.”
Mr. Doty suggested that some of the boats that service the wind turbine project or an office that oversees construction and maintenance could be based on Martha’s Vineyard.
BOEM offshore renewable energy program manager Maureen Bornholdt said it was a tough sell for her to get the community benefit agreement into the PSN because it is so difficult to quantify, and that five percent was a starting point to get it on the table. She asked Islanders to help BOEM with suggestions for some simple and objective criteria to put a financial value on community benefits.
Last week’s announcement of the PSN triggered a 60-day public comment period ending on August 18, Ms. Stromberg said. Comments received or postmarked by that date will be made available to the public and considered before the publication of the Final Sale Notice (FSN), which will announce the time and date of the lease sale.
The end of the comment period also serves as the deadline for any participating companies to submit their qualification packages. Ms. Stromberg said BOEM will conduct the auction no sooner than 30 days after the FSN is published.
In regard to an environmental assessment of the wind energy area, Brian Krevor, BOEM Office of Renewable Energy, said the bureau determined that “no reasonably foreseeable significant impacts are expected to occur” as a result of issuing wind energy leases, and that an environmental impact statement is not required. Mr. Krevor said work that remains to be done includes a recreation and tourism survey study, and visual simulations for offshore Massachusetts and Rhode Island wind energy areas.
Beth Casoni, associate executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, said her organization is concerned that a five-year site study proposed for developers is not enough and should be seven. “That’s one of the issues we’ve been grappling with, how much data is enough,” Ms. Bornholdt said. But BOEM can require more information for some areas, if needed, instead of doing a “one size fits all,” she added.
To support responsible development and the permitting process, MassCEC wind project manager Tyler Studds said the state has been funding and managing offshore field surveys on marine mammals and turtles, conducted by the New England Aquarium, in partnership with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology conducted acoustics studies.
Aerial surveys to date logged in over 125 flight hours, covering 6,560 nautical miles, and collected 171,126 images. Also, nine underwater devices collected acoustic data, such as whale calls. A three-year report on the surveys will be released in September 2015.
Mr. Studds said the state is also studying transmission and how to get the power generated by wind turbines ashore. In looking at possible interconnection points, eight existing substations were identified in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, including two on the Cape Cod Canal and in Barnstable. Until developers come up with specific plans, Mr. Studds said specific locations for transmission lines will not be known until developers come up with specific plans.
State Coastal Zone Management Director Bruce Carlisle said the state’s ocean Management Plan is undergoing a required five-year update, which provides guidance on issues such as where underwater cables may be located.
For more information, go online to http://www.boem.gov/. To comment, go to http://www.regulations.gov/, enter “BOEM-2014-0034” and click search. Or, write to BOEM, Officer of Renewable Energy Programs, 381 Elden St., HM 1328, Herndon, VA 20170.