WEST YARMOUTH – One of three offshore wind companies hoping to build wind farms south of Martha’s Vineyard is moving ahead with a plan to bring a transmission cable onshore either in Yarmouth or Barnstable to connect its turbines to the electric grid.
But local officials are considering issues they want addressed as part of a state environmental review of the proposal by Vineyard Wind, and opposition is forming.
“Our board still hasn’t taken any position,” said Tracy Post, chairwoman of the Yarmouth Board of Selectmen. “We’re trying to get our arms around the process.”
Selectmen will ask the town’s attorney to help them better understand the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act procedures and methods of obtaining information, Post said.
Barnstable Town Council President Eric Steinhilber and Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said the town has problems with elements of the Vineyard Wind cable filing.
“We’ll be commenting on numerous concerns,” McLaughlin said.
Christine Greeley, of West Yarmouth, who has a home near Lewis Bay where one of the proposed routes for the cable is located, said the lack of scientific knowledge about the bay, such as bathymetric data, makes it a poor candidate for cable-laying.
“It just can’t happen,” Greeley said.
The “Vineyard Wind Connector” project would bring cables, buried in trenches, through state waters to the Cape Cod shoreline from the 50 to 100 turbines the company is proposing to build offshore. Once onshore, the cables would be buried in concrete duct banks and snaked within public roadway layouts, a utility transmission right of way, a railroad right of way or possibly a bike path corridor, all leading to a new substation immediately south of Eversource’s existing switching station in Independence Park near Mary Dunn Road.
Barnstable officials remain open to discussions with Vineyard Wind, Steinhilber said. One primary concern is the amount of oil that would be used at the new substation, which could pose a danger as a contaminant to the nearby public water supply for Hyannis, he said.
One of the Town Council’s most important projects is to secure public drinking water sources for the Hyannis water system for the next 100 years, he said.
“We don’t want to get in the way of that, or jeopardize that,” Steinhilber said.
Vineyard Wind promises “enhanced protections to the Cape’s fragile watershed,” far exceeding the requirements of substations that have operated on the Cape for decades, Erich Stephens, the company’s chief development officer, said. A containment system would catch any leaks of transformer oils and the cables will not contain any oil, he said.
Vineyard Wind’s preferred route to the new substation goes through West Yarmouth, on the shore of Lewis Bay, with a sharp turn west into the town of Barnstable, near the site of the new substation.
On Monday, at least 15 protesters with signs saying “No Cables” and “Save Lewis Bay” attended a site visit on the bay’s shoreline with state and company officials. Public consultation sessions were held Monday in Boston, with three citizens in attendance, and 65 people attended a similar session in Hyannis, a spokeswoman for the state said. Greeley, who attended the Hyannis meeting, estimated the number at more than 100.
Several people expressing concerns about the project also appeared at the Yarmouth selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, Post said.
The landing of a cable in the area of Lewis Bay raises questions about protecting plant and animal species, commercial fishing, and even whether the cable could be severed by an ice-cutter, Greeley said. While a Yarmouth landing may be cheaper for the company, Greeley said they should look at a Barnstable landing or elsewhere.
“There was a lot of misunderstanding about what we were proposing,” Stephens said of the public meetings. “I like to think there was a good conversation that really helped convey better both where we are in the process and what exactly it is that we are proposing with the project.”
In response to citizen comments Monday, the company asked that state environmental officials delay the deadline for public comment until Jan. 30 for an environmental notification form. A certificate on the form will be issued Feb. 9, which will include preparatory materials for the project’s draft environmental impact report.
The entire connector project is expected to take up about 16 acres of land, including six acres occupied by the offshore cables, assuming three 10-inch-diameter cables are installed along a cable corridor through Muskeget Channel, between the Vineyard and Nantucket. An onshore underground duct bank would take up four acres and six acres would be leased for the proposed new substation.
About 100 acres of land would be altered during the work, including eight acres onshore and 93 acres of wetland for the 6-foot-wide trench for the cable, to dredge potential sand mounds on the ocean floor and to bring the cable onto land, Stephens said.
An existing building at the substation will be demolished, and a new, smaller 1,210-square-foot, one-story building would be built, according to the environmental notification form. The new substation would include three lightning protection masts that would be about 80 feet high. Otherwise transformers and other elements would be 40 feet or less in height. The project requires no on-site employees and vehicle trips per day would be less than one, excluding construction.
A portion of the onshore cable route through Yarmouth was assessed as part of the now-canceled Cape Wind project, according to the form.
Whether the cable will be a permanent installation will be up to the regulators, Stephens said.
Vineyard Wind is one of three offshore wind energy companies to bid on Dec. 20 for contracts of up to 800 megawatts of power with the state’s electric distribution companies. The three companies, including Bay State Wind and Revolution Wind, expect to hear by April whether their bids have been chosen for negotiation by the electric companies that would buy the wind energy.
Bay State Wind and Revolution Wind have not yet filed state environmental impact paperwork for their cables. Revolution Wind is timing its filings to coincide with the results of the state bidding process, said company spokeswoman Meaghan Wims.
Stephens has said, though, that Vineyard Wind is moving ahead with permitting to produce “an early project,” which would put people to work earlier and deliver environmental benefits more quickly. The company’s connector project could start in 2019.
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