Vineyard Wind proposes to build and operate a 400-800 megawatt offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound that could power over 400,000 homes and help improve the resiliency of the Cape’s historically unreliable electric grid.
Tuesday night, the company’s plan met with mixed reviews, meaning many voices of support and just as many voices of skepticism.
The company bills the project as “the only proposed commercial large-scale offshore wind farm in Massachusetts to have begun the federal, state, and local permitting process.” It seeks to begin operating in early 2021.
Precisely where the project’s transmission cables come ashore on Cape Cod and connect to the regional electric grid was the focus of a State Energy Facilities Siting Board public hearing held April 24 at Barnstable High School.
“I want to make sure we get it right,” Eric Stevens, chief development officer for Vineyard Wind, told the State Energy Facilities Siting Board.
The siting board is reviewing Vineyard Wind’s filing to determine whether the project would provide a reliable energy supply for the Commonwealth, with a minimum impact on the environment, at the lowest possible cost. In the audience were about 100 Cape residents – 27 of whom delivered public comments, stretching the hearing well past 11 p.m.
Vineyard Wind’s filing identifies two possible routes for connecting to the offshore portion of the project, a preferred route and an alternative route. While the company seeks approval for both, only one ultimately would be constructed.
Lewis Bay at New Hampshire Avenue in Yarmouth is Vineyard Wind’s preferred onshore connection site. Roughly six miles of transmission cables would be buried underground, four miles of them in Yarmouth and the rest in Barnstable. There are five variations to the preferred route, which would permit use of alternative roadways and existing utility transmission rights-of-way.
The east parking lot of Covell’s Beach in Barnstable is the company’s 5.4-mile runner-up landfall site.
An onshore substation would be located on a 13-acre site at Independence Park in Barnstable.
The offshore portion of the proposed wind farm is in federal waters, 34 miles south of Cape Cod and 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. The turbine array would be invisible from Nantucket Sound. Up to three cables would be buried 6-8 feet under the ocean floor using an underwater jet plow. The transmission line would pass through state waters in the towns of Barnstable, Edgartown, Yarmouth, and potentially Mashpee.
The siting board will determine whether the proposed transmission project can be built, and whether the company’s proposed zoning exemptions will be approved.
Acknowledging that the Cape’s watershed is a very precious, Stevens said the company’s environmentally sensitive project would anchor a new, clean energy industry on Cape Cod.
Since 2010, Stevens said, Vineyard Wind has conducted onshore ecological feasibility studies, offshore geological surveys, and hundreds of stakeholder interviews – including fishermen, environmental agencies, regulatory agencies, and Native American tribes on the Cape and Islands.
The proposed project is a partnership between three energy companies – Advanced Renewables, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, and Vineyard Power Cooperative. Vineyard Wind has already created a $15 million fund to help build a sustainable offshore wind industry in Massachusetts.
However, Charles McLaughlin, Barnstable’s assistant town attorney, said the town has major reservations about the project.
McLaughlin said the town’s overwhelming concern deals with the already compromised Hyannis water system. He testified that the town has already spent more than $10 million treating the contamination of municipal water supplies from firefighting foam once used at the Barnstable County Fire Training Academy.
“The chemical components appear to present a real threat to us,” McLaughlin explained. “We are concerned that a spill could leach into the groundwater 50 feet below the surface.”
In fact, McLaughlin said, one gallon of dielectric fluid, which is used to cool hot electric components, released into 5 million parts water would pollute 5 million gallons of water in seven days’ time, and the results would be catastrophic.
Moreover, he said, the project could also cause significant radar interference at Barnstable Municipal Airport, the third-busiest airport in the state.
“We are steadfast that we do not create a ‘Cape Wind Redux,’” McLaughlin said, referencing the ill-fated wind project slated for Nantucket Sound 15 years ago. “We are vitally concerned that we address these demonstrable threats.” He added that the town plans to file to intervene in the case.
Among those expressing support for the project was Jeffrey Soares, district director for State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro. Soares also read into the record letters of support on behalf of Cyr, State Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, and State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth.
“Massachusetts is ideally suited to host this emerging clean energy,” Soares said. “We are convinced Vineyard Wind will take steps to minimize environmental impact.” Moreover, he said, the offshore wind farm is projected to save $31 million in fuel costs for New England and $15 million for Massachusetts annually.
Chris Adams of Barnstable, a former executive director of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said he, too, strongly supports the project because it would launch clean, sustainable energy as a major new economic sector in the Northeast, generating 3,600 new jobs and $1.8 billion in annual revenue.
Likewise, Justin Ingold of South Yarmouth endorsed the Vineyard Wind plans.
“We’ve got to stop passing the buck,” Ingold said. “If Yarmouth can play a role, let’s be leaders.”
However, John Deliso of West Yarmouth cautioned the siting board against rushing to judgment.
“Cabling the bay will preclude dredging of Lewis Bay,” Deliso said. “The bay needs to be studied. The intrusion of sand needs to be studied before problems are precluded.”
Christine Greeley of West Yarmouth agreed, saying that Lewis Bay is constantly changing.
“You are looking at putting a project that is untried in the U.S. into Lewis Bay,” Greeley said. “These cables and an 800 MW wind farm will not help this bay. We are saying very strongly: Land the cables somewhere else.”
Kathryn Sedor, the siting board’s presiding officer, thanked the audience for commenting.
“We actually make great use of the comments that we get from these public hearings,” Sedor said. “They are very valuable to us because they come from you.”
Sedor said the Barnstable hearing marked the very beginning of the site board’s review. Further information gathering is required, and additional hearings are forthcoming in Boston. The project will also be reviewed by the Cape Cod Commission, as well as nearly 30 federal, tribal, state, and local approval agencies.
A copy of the location, layout, dimensions, and configuration of the plans is available at the Barnstable Town Clerk’s Office and Hyannis Public Library, or online at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, docket number EFSB17-05. Accessible formats are available from the department’s ADA coordinator at DPUADACoordinator@state.ma.us, or by calling 617-305-3500.
The deadline to submit written comments to the siting board is Tuesday, May 8. To do so, email firstname.lastname@example.org and Kathryn.email@example.com, or mail written comments to: M. Kathryn Sedor, Energy Facilities Siting Board, One South Station, Boston MA 02110.
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