A dust-up has emerged over vessel travel lanes in the vast offshore wind area south of the Islands, with wind farm development companies at odds and fishermen giving mixed reviews.
“We support establishing transit corridors through the wind energy areas,” said Lauren Burm, a spokeswoman for Bay State Wind, which has signed a lease in the area but does not yet have a contract to sell its wind power. Although progress has been made on the corridor layout, a consensus is still needed with fishermen and with new companies that may lease remaining areas, Burm said.
Vineyard Wind, under the pressure of a tight schedule to begin construction next year of an 84-turbine wind farm, announced Monday that it supports the proposed 2-nautical-mile-wide vessel travel corridors. But the company’s 800-megawatt wind farm is northeast of any of the proposed corridors, so it may not be an issue until the company needs to expand. “We’re amenable to discussing a wider corridor,” company spokesman Scott Farmelant said.
The proposed corridors are not as wide as commercial fishermen might like.
“It’s a good starting point,” said lobsterman Lanny Dellinger, chairman of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council Fisheries Advisory Board. But the commercial fishing industry has been pretty adamant about wanting 4 miles in width, Dellinger said. Fishermen need plenty of room to allow their large and slow-moving vessels to navigate safely in poor weather and recover safely in emergencies such as engine trouble, he said.
The proposed corridors would serve commercial fishermen from ports in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, allowing them to quickly and safely return home, particularly in bad weather, according to a supplement to the bidders vying Thursday on three unleased areas.
“We’re not accepting anything less than four (miles),” said Richard Fuka of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance, where squid and lobster fishing are primary concerns. “They keep throwing different things back and forth. We gave our reasons.”
After a Sept. 20 meeting of the Massachusetts Fisheries Working Group on Offshore Wind Energy and a similar Oct. 11 meeting in Rhode Island, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a “generally agreed upon” graphic to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that showed navigation safety corridors around and through seven federal lease areas south and southwest of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Two of the lease areas farthest west are held by Deepwater Wind, which is under contract serving Rhode Island for a 400-megawatt wind farm. To the east is Bay State Wind, and farther east is Vineyard Wind. The three unrented parcels are farther east.
In the travel corridor proposal, there is one east-west corridor, one north-south corridor and one long, diagonal corridor from the northwest to the southeast. The seven lease areas are about 1 million acres in total, largely contiguous and, so far, separately owned – so the turbine patterns will not necessarily accommodate a travel corridor unless the individual developers decide to accept what is being recommended by federal agencies.
“That’s 1,400 square miles of continuous wind turbines,” Dellinger said. “That 1,400 square miles is where I make my living.”
While allowing that the wind farm developers are not required to create the corridors, the proposal addresses the Coast Guard’s desire that mariners be able to travel through the farm areas at a steady or near-steady course and not have to navigate through neighboring wind farms where tower layouts are dissimilar, said Edward LeBlanc, Coast Guard chief of waterways management in Providence.
Vineyard Wind won a contract in May to sell 800 megawatts of energy to three Massachusetts distributors, as part of the Baker-Polito administration’s plan to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
The uncertainty about the future of the proposed transit corridors proposal also has stirred up another dispute between the offshore wind developers.
While Vineyard Wind called on the other developers to adopt the travel corridor plan, competitor Bay State Wind called on the other companies to adopt the east-west grid pattern that commercial fishermen want within each wind farm. Vineyard Wind currently has a northeast-to-southwest grid plan for its 84 turbines but says it is working on options such as fewer turbines and financial compensation for fishermen’s financial losses.
“The industry doesn’t want a mitigation strategy,” Dellinger said. “The whole process needs to slow down. We’re in such a rush.”
Earlier this month the federal ocean energy management bureau released its draft environmental impact report on Vineyard Wind’s $2 billion construction and operations plan, with public hearings to be held in January on the Islands, in Hyannis, New Bedford and Narragansett, Rhode Island.
Apart from fishing industry concerns, Vineyard Wind has faced opposition to landing its high-voltage cable on the southern coast of Cape Cod. But the company managed to come to a $16 million agreement with the town of Barnstable that allows a landing at William H. Covell Memorial Beach. The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board is expected to make a decision in April on the cable landing.
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