BOSTON – A group representing commercial fishing interests in Rhode Island voted over the weekend in favor of a funding package the Vineyard Wind project proposed to help mitigate the possible impacts from the 84-turbine wind farm proposed for waters 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
The unanimous, but non-binding, vote of the Rhode Island Fishing Advisory Board to accept a mitigation package of roughly $16.7 million from Vineyard Wind comes as the proposed 800-megawatt wind farm project faces an important regulatory vote in Rhode Island on Tuesday evening.
The mitigation package is intended to address concerns raised by Rhode Island fishermen that the wind farm could lead to economic hardship for fishermen by forcing them to alter their routes to fishing grounds and that electromagnetic fields around the turbines could cause species displacement.
The offer includes the creation of a $12.5 million trust fund – funded with five annual payments of $2.5 million from Vineyard Wind – to be managed by Rhode Island fishermen “for the purpose of ensuring safe and effective fishing in and around Vineyard Wind’s project area and future wind farms generally,” the company said. It also includes $4.2 million in payments spread over 30 years for assistance with the direct impacts of Vineyard Wind on commercial fishing in Rhode Island.
In a statement, Vineyard Wind called the agreement a “win-win package that sets the standard for how New England’s fishing and offshore wind industries can grow together.”
Though the offer was accepted unanimously, the Providence Journal reported that each member of the Fishing Advisory Board “spoke out against a process regulated by the federal government that they argued is weighted in favor of offshore wind development, to the detriment of the fishing industry.”
“It’s this industry against the world,” the ProJo reported board chairman Lanny Dellinger said after audience members urged rejection of the Vineyard Wind offer. “Look around and see what you’re up against. That’s what we had to weigh as a group. There is no choice here.”
In comments submitted last year, the East Farm Commercial Fisheries Center of Rhode Island said it expects the effects from the Vineyard Wind project will include “strained or significantly reduced access to important fishing grounds for mobile and fixed-gear fishermen; increased navigational hazards … increased fishing pressure on other species … destruction of or serious injury to spawning and feeding grounds … direct mortality to fish … and direct impacts to marine mammals in the area.”
On Tuesday evening, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council is expected to vote on whether Vineyard Wind’s proposed 800-megawatt offshore wind power project is consistent with state policies, including those meant to protect the fishing industry.
Earlier this month, Massachusetts environmental officials completed their review of the Vineyard Wind project, which is expected to be operational by 2022.
Vineyard Wind is planning to financially close on its project this year, begin on-shore construction work in 2020, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021 and complete the 84-turbine wind farm in 2022.
Right now, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities is winding down its review of Vineyard Wind’s power purchase agreements (expected to be completed next month) and Vineyard Wind is also expecting a tentative decision from the Energy Facilities Siting Board in March.
The project still must seek permit review from the Cape Cod Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Barnstable Conservation Commission. The project was chosen by Massachusetts utility executives and the Baker administration to fulfill the renewable energy requirements outlined in a 2016 law.