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Yarmouth, Barnstable react to status of wind farm cable review

BARNSTABLE – With the end of state proceedings to decide where Vineyard Wind will land its high-voltage cable on the Cape’s southern shoreline, town officials in Barnstable and Yarmouth are feeling satisfied, though for different reasons.

“I’m not displeased with where we stand right now,” said Norman Holcomb, chairman of the Yarmouth Board of Selectmen. “I think the state process has worked.”

The Energy Facilities Siting Board hearings on offshore wind developer Vineyard Wind’s cable proposal ended Friday. The siting board is expected to issue a final decision in April on whether to allow what could be the country’s first industrial-sized offshore wind farm to land its cable in Barnstable or Yarmouth.

Initially, the company decided a Yarmouth landing was preferable and was in stop-and-go negotiations with that town’s Board of Selectmen. But on Oct. 3 the company announced a $16 million host community agreement with Barnstable and officially switched its preference to Covell Beach in Barnstable.

Yarmouth could have seen increased revenue from property taxes and other forms of financial reimbursements, but Holcomb said questions raised by the selectmen about protecting the town’s environment and minimizing other possible negative effects seems to have influenced the move by Vineyard Wind toward a Barnstable landing. The town’s leaders had also argued with Vineyard Wind over financial help the town needed to prepare a host agreement.

“In the final analysis, Vineyard Wind was not willing to commit to Yarmouth to do the things that our community was asking for,” Holcomb said.

The town’s questions went unanswered by Vineyard Wind, Yarmouth Town Administrator Daniel Knapik said. Given the depth and breadth of those questions, it probably made more business sense for Vineyard Wind to go with the landing at Covell Beach in Barnstable, Knapik said.

“Right now, we are really not moving ahead with anything,” Holcomb said of the town’s interactions with Vineyard Wind.

In the Oct. 3 filing with the siting board, Vineyard Wind stated it had evaluated and addressed community concerns in Yarmouth related to laying cable in Lewis Bay and landing the cable at New Hampshire Avenue in West Yarmouth. But advocates for the preservation of Lewis Bay have continued to say the area is environmentally sensitive and host to a vibrant aquaculture industry that could be damaged with installation of the cable.

Vineyard Wind, in turn, stated in the Oct. 3 paperwork that “community acceptance and support” is a significant factor in its own right, as well as a way to minimize risk to the project and to meet deadlines. With Barnstable, the company stated it had found a “shared belief” that the cable-laying project can benefit the town and that potential negative effects can and will be dealt with satisfactorily. In the host community agreement with Barnstable, both the town and Vineyard Wind have agreed to a binding arbitration procedure for a major point of contention – protection of the town’s water supply from any potential spill of transformer fluid in a new substation off Independence Drive.

“It’s obviously critical that we get that right,” Barnstable Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said. “I’m pleased that we’ve reached this way to resolve it.”

In the Barnstable agreement, in addition to paying about $1 million a year 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. 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.

What could be a $32 million deal in the long run would allow the town to move its public water wells upstream from new substations that could leak 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.

The town has begun a search for an independent engineering firm to review the design of the substation to be built off Independence Drive, with Vineyard Wind reimbursing the town for up to $50,000 for that work, McLaughlin said. A Vineyard Wind spokesman confirmed the terms, as stated in the agreement.

Assuming the siting board decision early next year favors the Barnstable landing, Vineyard Wind intends to begin construction on the landing itself by next fall, the company’s chief development officer, Erich Stephens, told Barnstable Town Council on Oct. 18. At that meeting, town council members unanimously approved an easement and two related items at Covell Beach for the company to begin its work.

Vineyard Wind plans to build its 106-turbine wind farm on leased federal land about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. After reaching the shore, the cable would run along underground trenches on public ways, similar to other public utilities, for about 5 miles to the new substation off Independence Drive at 40 Communication Way, Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells said. That new substation will then connect to an existing Eversource substation nearby, bringing the electricity from the wind farm into the regional electrical grid.

The company’s 800-megawatt contract is expected to provide power to over 400,000 homes, Stephens said.