PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island coastal regulators granted Vineyard Wind a stay in permitting proceedings on Tuesday, giving the New Bedford company another two months to reach agreement with fishermen who say they would lose access to valuable fishing grounds in the waters where 84 wind turbines would be installed.
At the request of Vineyard Wind, the Coastal Resources Management Council agreed to postpone a decision until the end of January on whether to grant what’s known as a “consistency certification” to the 800-megawatt offshore wind farm proposed in 118 square miles between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard.
The delay will give the company more time to discuss a compensation package with fishermen and potential tweaks to the wind farm’s layout, said CEO Lars Pedersen.
“It requires more time to find the right solutions,” he said. “We recognize that it is a challenging situation.”
But representatives of the fishing industry argued against the stay.
“We’ve tried – 14 months, countless hours, countless days not at sea – and it just seems like they’re stalling,” said Newport fisherman Todd Sutton.
The decision represents a reprieve for the $2-billion proposal, which is facing headwinds after fishermen complained that the orientation and tight spacing of the turbines would make it impossible for them to safely fish in grounds rich in lobster, Jonah crab and squid. On Nov. 19, the Fishermen’s Advisory Board, which advises the CRMC on fishing issues related to offshore wind, unanimously voted to deny its support to the proposal.
Since that vote, staff in Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office have spoken with Vineyard Wind and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the lead permitting agency for the project, but no further changes were made to the proposal.
It will now be up to the fishermen and state officials to negotiate any possible changes with Vineyard Wind and compensation that could include the company making payments or purchasing new equipment for the fishing fleet. Any pact would then have to go back to the fishermen’s board before the CRMC takes up the consistency certification.
The council has jurisdiction even though the wind farm wouldn’t be located in state waters because under federal law any project that would affect fishing or other Rhode Island activities or resources must be consistent with state policies.
Securing the certification next month would keep Vineyard Wind on track to start construction at the end of next year and tie up expiring federal tax credits that are key to the low price the company offered Massachusetts when that state selected the project for offshore wind development.
If the CRMC denies the certification, Vineyard Wind could appeal the decision to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but that would potentially delay the permitting process.
A lot is riding on the outcome for the offshore wind industry. Vineyard Wind aims to be the first large-scale proposal in the nation, with a 2021 target date for operation, following the completion two years ago of the five-turbine demonstration project off Block Island now owned by Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind.
At the heart of the disagreement is the layout of most of the project’s turbines in rows running from northeast to southwest. Fishermen have historically fished the waters in the project area from east to west and argue that orienting the turbines in a different direction would lead to unacceptable navigation dangers.
Even as Vineyard Wind has largely maintained the northeast-southwest layout, Orsted has announced a commitment to east-west rows in a federal lease near Vineyard Wind’s. So has Deepwater Wind, the developer of the Block Island Wind Farm that is now part of Orsted, which also holds a federal lease in the area.
At Tuesday’s CRMC meeting, Katie Almeida, a representative of The Town Dock, a Narragansett company that is one of the largest seafood suppliers in the state, said that Vineyard Wind never consulted her company on the configuration of its turbines before submitting plans to the federal government.
“If they had only listened and taken our concerns into account in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now,” she said.
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