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Vineyard Wind, Barnstable officials sign agreement on cable project

CENTERVILLE – Barnstable and Vineyard Wind officials have signed a host community agreement that includes $16 million in payments to the town in return for the offshore wind energy developer landing a high-voltage electric power transmission cable at William H. Covell Memorial Beach rather than via a disputed route through Lewis Bay in West Yarmouth.

But a final decision on the transmission cable route, the landing location and other details is still to be determined; the state Energy Facilities Siting Board began a hearing today in Boston on the company’s plan to connect its 106-turbine wind farm to the regional electric grid.

“It’s a big deal,” Barnstable Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said about the agreement, which was signed Wednesday by Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells and Vineyard Wind Chief Development Officer Erich Stephens.

A Vineyard Wind spokesman said the agreement is part of the company’s due diligence in preparation for the siting board hearing, which is expected to last a month. A further statement could be expected late Thursday once the Barnstable Town Council holds a first reading on three easements sought by Vineyard Wind at Covell Beach, company spokesman Scott Farmelant said. Town Council could vote on the easements as soon as its next meeting on Oct. 18.

The routing of the onshore line through Yarmouth, which has been Vineyard Wind’s stated preference, has met with resistance from homeowners where the cable would come ashore, aquaculture farmers in Lewis Bay and from the town’s Board of Selectmen.

Yarmouth Town Administrator Daniel Knapik and Norman Holcomb, chairman of the Yarmouth Board of Selectmen, did not immediately return calls for comment.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said aquaculture grantholder Edmund Janiunas of the possible move of Vineyard Wind’s preferred cable route away from Lewis Bay. “But we still have to proceed as if Yarmouth could be in contention.”

Janiunas is among the Yarmouth and Barnstable residents who are following the siting board proceedings and who have “limited participant” status for the hearing.

In the Barnstable agreement, in addition to paying at least $1 million in property taxes, Vineyard Wind agrees to pay $16 million to the town over 25 years as mitigation, McLaughlin said. That stipulation applies to the current 800-megawatt contract that Vineyard Wind has with three electricity distribution companies in Massachusetts. The company has said it intends to be in operation by 2021, and is currently pursuing both state and federal permits.

A second aspect of Barnstable’s host community agreement would duplicate the $16 million terms if Vineyard Wind bids on and wins another contract in the future, with the company potentially using Covell Beach again and building a new substation in West Barnstable rather than at Independence Park, McLaughlin said.

What could be a $32 million deal in the long run would allow the town to move its public water wells upstream from the two new substations, easing concerns about the leakage of transformer fluids into the drinking water, McLaughlin said. Since 2016, Barnstable officials have been contending with contamination to the Hyannis drinking water supply from operations at the Barnstable Municipal Airport and the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy.

Moving the wells, apart from buying land, is estimated to cost $20 million, McLaughlin said.

With the defunct Cape Wind project in mind, another aspect of the host community agreement is that Vineyard Wind commits to not permitting any entity that generates energy from a location within Nantucket Sound to connect to the Vineyard Wind cables unless ordered to do so legally.

The host agreement also calls for repaving the parking lot at Covell Beach and an $80,000 contribution for a new bathhouse, McLaughlin said.

The siting board will determine whether the proposed transmission project can be constructed and whether the company’s requested zoning exemptions will be approved. The company proposes to lay a 27-mile, 220-kilovolt electric transmission line from the wind farm 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard to a new substation at Independence Drive in Barnstable. From the wind farm the transmission line would run along the ocean floor between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and through Nantucket Sound to reach land either at Covell Beach or at New Hampshire Avenue in West Yarmouth. The transmission line would run underground to the new substation in Barnstable that Vineyard Wind will build along with a short 115-kilovolt transmission line leading from the new substation to an existing switching station.