BOSTON – A critical hearing on a transmission cable that would connect Vineyard Wind’s planned offshore wind farm to the electric grid begins Thursday, with a decision expected by April.
After winning a contract in May to sell 800 megawatts of offshore energy to three Massachusetts electric distribution companies, the company is deep into efforts to obtain federal and state permissions to move forward. Vineyard Wind’s 106-turbine farm planned 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard is expected to cost more than $2 billion to build and be in operation by 2021.
The hearing that kicks off this week is before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, which is responsible for ensuring the state has a “reliable energy supply, with a minimum impact on the environment, at the lowest possible cost,” according to its website.
“Thursday’s hearing represents another important step forward for the United States’ first commercial-scale wind farm and the abundant environmental and economic benefits the project will bring to the region,” Vineyard Wind officials wrote in a statement.
The company’s team continues to listen carefully to the input and feedback from stakeholders representing the Cape and Islands and the SouthCoast, and that information “ensures that we deliver the best possible project for Massachusetts’ residents and businesses,” the statement says.
The siting board will review Vineyard Wind’s filing for approximately 27 miles of electric transmission lines to Cape Cod and a new substation in Barnstable, considering issues of reliability, environmental effects, cost, public convenience and public welfare. The nine-member board will not consider the wind farm itself, which is in federal waters and under federal review.
As the month-long hearing gets underway in downtown Boston, though, concerns are expected to be raised about the transmission cable coming onshore. Vineyard Wind has been working to secure community support to lay the cable through Lewis Bay and at New Hampshire Avenue in West Yarmouth, or at Covell Beach in Centerville. Also on Thursday, Barnstable Town Council is scheduled to take up the question of granting easements to Vineyard Wind at Covell Beach.
“First and foremost, we’re focused on making sure that the proposed project, if it’s going to happen, does not do any ecological or economic or other harm to Lewis Bay,” said attorney Jason Talerman, part of a legal team representing the town of Yarmouth at the hearing.
“We want the siting board to acknowledge the environmental risks posed by the substation particularly, and the necessary elements of design that will mitigate the risks,” Barnstable Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said.
Officials are concerned with possible leaks from transformers, or explosions, that could allow transformer fluids to reach the town’s groundwater and pollute public drinking water wells, McLaughlin said.
The towns of Yarmouth and Barnstable have intervenor status in the hearing, meaning they have demonstrated to the siting board that they may be substantially and specifically affected. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, a Hyannis-based group that worked to defeat Cape Wind, also has intervenor status as does the Eversource electric utility and Rhode Island commercial fisherman Spencer Bode. Cape Wind’s proposed transmission cable had also been expected to go through Lewis Bay before the project lost important power purchase agreements with the utilities and went defunct.
“Those are big numbers,” Bode said of the turbines planned in the federal lease areas where he and others have fished. “I would like the whole process to have a trial, to make sure it’s a feasible idea.”
Because Eversource is responsible for the transmission system into which Vineyard Wind’s cable would interconnect, “we need to be closely involved in the Energy Facilities Siting Board proceedings,” company spokesman Michael Durand said. “We have some concerns about Vineyard Wind’s proposed use of our right-of-way.”
Participating in the hearing will allow Eversource to learn relevant facts about the project, and “ensure our current and future use of the right-of-way is considered in the siting process,” Durand said.
Among the ten people who are “limited participants” in the hearing are two people from Yarmouth Port and 7 people from West Yarmouth including aquaculture grantholders Michael Dunbar and Edmund Janiunas. Both Dunbar and Janiunas say that the cable-laying through Lewis Bay would drastically harm their livelihoods.
West Yarmouth homeowner Christine Greeley, who has limited participant status, opposes the Lewis Bay cable route and plans to go to all the siting board meetings, she said.
“It shouldn’t be foisted on a fragile bay,” Greeley said, pointing instead to Covell Beach as a suitable alternative.
“We really support wind power strongly,” Yarmouth Port resident Robert Berry said, speaking also for fellow limited participant Kathleen Benson who lives at the same address. “What we have concerns about is the bidding process and the cable routing.”