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Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton has cautioned that the environmental review Vineyard Wind is undergoing for its underground cables is to encourage public participation and help state agencies. The review won’t stop a project in its tracks, he said.
“I do not have the authority to approve or deny a project,” Beaton said in his Feb. 9 certificate on the Vineyard Wind “Connector” environmental notification form.
About 150 individuals and agencies sent comments about the connector project, which proposes to bring three underwater electricity cables from 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, through state waters, to make landfall in either West Yarmouth or Centerville, and then run north to a substation in Barnstable.
Vineyard Wind, based in New Bedford, is the first of three offshore wind energy companies to undergo the state’s regulatory review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act. All three companies are in the midst of bidding for contracts to sell electricity in Massachusetts but Vineyard Wind has stepped ahead with permitting applications to be ready to start construction in 2019.
Among the comments about the project, many strongly supported renewable offshore wind energy.
“As millennials, there is no greater issue facing our generation and our children’s than climate change,” state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Woods Hole, said in their joint letter. “Approving and building the Vineyard Wind project will be a very tangible demonstration of our commitment and resolve to do our part for a clean energy future.”
As stated in her letter, Falmouth resident Christine Gault believes the installation of land cables will “cause temporary inconvenience to residents” but should be weighed against the “societal benefits of the project.”
Associated Industries of Massachusetts, an employer association based in Boston, expressed support for the project overall, rather than the connector cables specifically, and praised the possibility of new jobs, the reduction on the reliance on natural gas and oil, and the savings that could be delivered to ratepayers, according to the association’s letter to Beaton.
But other letter writers expressed dismay.
“We adamantly oppose the Vineyard Wind Connector’s proposal,” a group of eight home associations along the Cape’s southern coast said in a letter to Beaton. The possible negative environmental consequences to Lewis Bay, where a landfall in West Yarmouth is planned, require that other alternative areas to land the cable be found, the group wrote.
Others pointed to possible ecological damage as well.
“Nitrogen eutrophication has changed the bay’s natural habitat, and further abuse of the resource by Vineyard Wind’s proposal is not warranted,” said A. Douglas Peabody of West Yarmouth, whose home is on Lewis Bay.
“I’m appalled that the state (and the town of Yarmouth) would consider a project that would damage this fragile watershed,” said Andrea Gottfried, a taxpayer in West Yarmouth. “Lewis Bay is historically, ecologically and economically important to Cape Cod residents and visitors from around the world.”
Gottfried pointed to population growth and increased boat traffic as damaging the bay’s ecosystem.
The 1,800-member Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association also expressed alarm about the overall project and the potential effect on fish and all sea life by electromagnetic fields, seafloor cable-laying, pile driving and other impacts.
Given that a federal lease for the now-defunct Cape Wind project has not yet been ended, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound is also against the Vineyard Wind cable connection project and any other transmission line project “that could potentially connect with or facilitate a future project in Nantucket Sound,” Alliance president Audra Parker wrote.
Barnstable town officials have also continued to express their concern about possible hazards to their public drinking water supplies at the possible expansion of the substation, and Yarmouth selectmen are considering input from residents and property owners.
Vineyard Wind company representatives are optimistic, though.
“We remain confident that we will address all concerns regarding short-term impacts associated with construction of the Vineyard Wind connector, while demonstrating that there will be no significant long-term impacts to the local environment,” Vineyard Wind Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens said.
In its letter to Beaton, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod praised Vineyard Wind for its potential to provide a “significant contribution” to future U.S. offshore wind energy production but encouraged a focus on a dozen specific “connector” issues such as protecting Lewis Bay and potential fluid leaks into groundwater at the substation in Barnstable.
“When a transition to clean, local energy is as urgent as it is today, we accept limited, carefully managed and diligently mitigated impacts as we transform our energy mix into one that can allow wildlife and communities to thrive for decades to come,” said Conservation Law Foundation attorney Caitlin Peale Sloan.
The next step in the review of Vineyard Wind’s connector project is preparation of the mandatory environmental impact report. A draft version is expected in the spring.
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