Attendees at public hearings in Hyannis and on Nantucket Wednesday for one of three offshore wind energy projects proposed for south of Martha’s Vineyard had questions about the environment, potential jobs and the effects on commercial and recreational fishing.
But others fully welcomed the benefit of a renewable energy project that – unlike Cape Wind, they said – appears to have a chance of coming to fruition.
“I’m just hoping that this will be the beginning of a national shift,” said Nantucket resident Colin Wyatt Leddy, who said he was “terribly sorry” to see Cape Wind not succeed.
The Cape Wind project, once slated for Nantucket Sound, is in the midst of relinquishing its lease with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
With four public meetings under their belt, and a fifth in Kingston, Rhode Island today, Vineyard Wind executives are moving into the heavy lifting of federal permitting for their 400 to 800 megawatt project planned off the Vineyard.
“There’s a long way to go,” said Rachel Pachter, vice president of permitting affairs for the company. Pachter previously worked for Cape Wind and its parent company, Energy Management Inc.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages the offshore lease program, is seeking public comment through April 30 on the Vineyard Wind construction and operations plan, an early step in the National Environmental Policy Act review. Once the bureau writes the draft environmental impact statement, most likely by the fall, a second round of public hearings will be held in the region with a 45-day public comment period.
Considering all the federal reviews and permitting, along with state, county and local regulatory reviews, such as through the Cape Cod Commission, the company plans to have permitting completed by mid-2019, Pachter said.
“That’s our goal,” she said. “It’s on us to provide robust information to support that.”
The company plans to build 106 wind turbines on leased federal land following an auction in 2015, in which Bay State Wind and Deepwater Wind also secured leases. In December, the companies all bid on long term contracts to sell power to the state’s electricity distributors, and an announcement of which companies move to the negotiation phase is expected within weeks.
Attendance was light at the Nantucket public hearing, but numbered close to 100 during the hearing Wednesday evening at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Hyannis.
West Yarmouth resident Elizabeth McNamara, whose family once owned a motel a block from Lewis Bay, said she wants to see a study of the bay’s ecosystem to help determine the effect of cable-laying proposed by Vineyard Wind. The company intends to lay cable from the wind farm north to the southern coast of Cape Cod, either in West Yarmouth or Centerville.
“My hope is that this all prompts those studies, that it at least gives the residents an understanding of the situation that it’s currently in, and whether this is going to impact it adversely, or maybe help,” McNamara said.
Falmouth businessman Ben Kinsley, who co-owns Sound Transport Inc., said he hopes Vineyard Wind will hire his company for security of the grid of wind turbines, or other tasks.
Kinsley said his company had hoped to be hired in the Cape Wind project.
“We were looking during that,” he said. “Then when this thing started and we still have our company, so we said, ‘Well, give it another shot.’”
Recreational fisherman Larry Backman wanted to find out “how this will or won’t impact what I love to do, which is fishing south of the Vineyard.” He wanted answers about the effect of the project on commercial fishermen, and how the cable-laying process will restrict navigation, he said.
At the Nantucket hearing, Carl Borchert said he supported Cape Wind and supports Vineyard Wind.
“It’s far less controversial,” he said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Only one person raised questions about commercial fishing during the Vineyard Wind presentation on Nantucket, but other fishermen have been making their concerns known, said Vineyard Wind fishing liaison James Kendall.
Among the commercial fishermen who could be affected by the Vineyard Wind construction is a fleet of 50 to 60 trawler operators who fish for squid just north of where the project is planned, according to Kendall.
“Most of the people who speak to me are displaying some fears,” Kendall said generally. ”(They are saying) ‘We don’t know what’s going to happen out there.’”
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