Vineyard Wind can now move forward with regional and local permitting for its planned offshore wind farm after receiving a critical certificate from state environmental officials, and regulators on the Cape and Islands say they are ready.
“We’ve looked at cables before,” said Paul Foley, the development of regional impact coordinator with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.
The commission will hold its first public hearing Feb. 21 on Vineyard Wind’s cable-laying plans after receiving a referral from the Edgartown Conservation Commission. The hearing is only on the cables but Foley said he expects community members to be curious about the entire project, which could be the first industrial scale offshore wind farm in the country.
As planned, the two undersea cables would start at an 84-turbine wind farm 15 miles south of the Vineyard and then run north between the Vineyard and Nantucket, in Muskeget Channel, to William H. Covell Memorial Beach in Barnstable, which is the company’s first choice for landfall. The cables would then run underground for about five miles to a new substation off Independence Drive, where they will connect to an existing substation that leads to the regional electricity grid.
On Feb. 1, state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton issued a certificate determining that the cable-laying project as described in Vineyard Wind’s final environmental impact report complies with state environmental policy law and regulations. But Beaton raised several issues that he said should be addressed as the company seeks its permits. These include better protection of piping plovers at Covell Beach, further analysis for protection of sand lance, and better monitoring and protections for rare birds. In addition, Vineyard Wind must come up with a better plan to document disturbances and recovery of marine and ocean-floor life, according to the certificate.
Beaton offered specific expectations, based on the company’s filing, for the protection of wetlands, waterways, rare species, marine mammals – including critically endangered North Atlantic right whales – shellfish, water and air quality, and historical and archaeological materials. The expectations for mitigation extended to dampening the effects of noise and reducing the effects of construction, including the company paying for a construction monitor, to act on the towns’ behalf, to ensure expectations are met.
The company will be expected to pay at least $240,000 under the state Oceans Act to compensate the state and the public for the project’s footprint and anticipated effects, according to the certificate. The fee could increase, with no cap, if the cable laying exceeds estimates. The company will be expected to pay a tidelands occupation fee, under state Chapter 91 licensing, which will be determined after construction is completed.
The two cables will cross both state and federal waters but the certificate applies only to the 23 miles of state waters affected.
“The project may proceed to state permitting,” Beaton wrote.
His agency considered 84 public comments, some with multiple individuals and groups named, received between Dec. 19 and Jan. 28 in evaluating the Vineyard Wind final environmental impact report.
“The environmental review process provided a significant benefit to the project, allowing numerous stakeholders, advocacy groups, and interested citizens to help identify and address impacts so they can be effectively managed or mitigated,” Vineyard Wind’s chief development officer Erich Stephens said Tuesday.
The company is in the process of asking for permit reviews from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Cape Cod Commission, the Barnstable Conservation Commission and others, Stephens said.
The Nantucket Conservation Commission is scheduled to hold its public hearing Wednesday Feb.6on Vineyard Wind’s notice of intent application for the proposed cables, which will be about three miles from the Nantucket shoreline, at their closest. The effects will be similar to those from other submarine cable installations reviewed by the conservation commission in 1995 and 2005, according to the application.
At their closest point, the proposed offshore export cables will be approximately 1.2 miles from the Edgartown shoreline. Two possible routes are still under consideration through Muskeget Channel, the company said in its application for a development of regional impact review by the Vineyard commission.
So far on Cape Cod, Vineyard Wind has filed no specific application with the Barnstable Conservation Commission, a department spokeswoman said Tuesday. No specific application from the company has crossed the desks of the Yarmouth Conservation Commission either, board Vice Chairman Thomas Durkin said Tuesday. The company listed an alternative landfall for the cable in West Yarmouth in its final environmental impact report.
The Cape Cod Commission will open a development of regional impact public hearing period within 45 days of the Feb. 1 certificate issued by Beaton, said Jonathon Idman , the agency’s chief regulatory officer.
Vineyard Wind was chosen in May to sell 800 megawatts of electricity to three distributors in Massachusetts as part of a mandate in the 2016 Act to Promote Energy Diversity. A state review of the power purchase agreements the company signed with the distributors is expected to conclude in March.
Public meetings hosted by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management start MondayFeb.11 on Nantucket for Vineyard Wind’s draft environmental impact statement for its construction and operations plan. The company intends to start construction onshore this year.
The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board is expected to make a decision in April on the cable landing site.
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