A federal agency charged with protecting rare birds has again recommended that offshore wind turbines be allowed to remain spinning during migration periods, after an appeals court ordered a review for the stalled Cape Wind project.
A “feathering” measure – basically, stopping the turbines – to protect piping plovers and roseate terns during their migration will not be included in the project’s incidental take statement, Paul Phifer, assistant regional director for ecological services for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote in the Aug. 31 decision.
Cape Wind had contended that curtailing turbine activity would dissuade financing and reduce energy production, and therefore profitability, of the proposed 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, the decision says. Despite staying current with its federal lease payments on the 46-square-mile area, the company ran into a seemingly insurmountable hurdle in January 2015 when Eversource and National Grid terminated contracts to buy power produced by the turbines.
“I haven’t had a chance to review it,” Cape Wind Associates, LLC president James Gordon said last week of the Fish and Wildlife Service decision.
The incidental take statement was vacated in a 2016 U.S. Court of Appeals decision along with the project’s environmental impact statement.
Feathering is what bird conservationists had asked for 10 years ago, said Kyla Bennett of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, one of the plaintiffs in the court case challenging the project.
“Cape Wind had said no, that would make our project uneconomical,” Bennett said. “But the court said (to the Fish and Wildlife Service) you have to make an independent decision.”
Bennett said last week that she hadn’t had a chance to read the Aug. 31 reissued incidental take statement.
“But if they issued it without many changes, that’s a problem,” she said. “The whole reason we sued was because of the impacts to the piping plover, the roseate tern and the North Atlantic right whale. We felt like there had been new information that had come out that needed to be looked at.”
Charles McLaughlin, assistant attorney for the town of Barnstable, another plaintiff in the court case, said he too hadn’t had a chance to read the decision. Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound president Audra Parker was not available for comment. The Alliance has continued to call for the termination of Cape Wind’s federal lease.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Cape Wind project would likely not jeopardize the continued existence of the roseate tern or the piping plover, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of either species’ critical habitat, according to the Aug. 31 decision. But the project would likely result in the incidental take – harm or kill – of four to five roseate terns each year and roughly 10 piping plovers over a 20-year period, according to the decision.
In an early draft incidental take statement, Fish and Wildlife Service officials had included the feathering measure but removed it for the final statement issued in 2008, according to the Aug. 31 decision. Given that Cape Wind was not likely to jeopardize the species or their habitats, Fish and Wildlife Service was then required to develop measures to minimize the impact of the anticipated deaths. Those measures, though, cannot alter the basic design, location, scope, duration or timing of the actions and may involve only minor changes, according to the decision.
Based on their analysis, Fish and Wildlife Service officials determined the feathering proposal is not a “reasonable and prudent measure” and would require more than a “minor change,” according to the decision. The agency’s analysis included information from its own examination of the issue, the views of Cape Wind and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and also submissions from plaintiffs in the court case and their experts, the decision says.
Lawyers for the two sides will meet in court Oct. 11 for a status conference, according to court records.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a supplemental environmental impact statement Aug. 4, reaffirming its conclusion that the seafloor for the 130-turbine wind farm was stable. A final decision on the environmental statement is expected after 30 days.
Despite the recent federal agency reviews of supporting decisions, the 16-year-old project’s fate remains in question, if not outright decided.
Cape Wind is not among the three offshore wind farm developers with federal leases south of the Islands, all of which are expected to vie for energy contracts with Massachusetts electric utilities by December.
“It is not on our radar,” William White, senior director for offshore wind at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said earlier this year. “We do not believe that Cape Wind is a project that is moving forward.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding