The only part of Vineyard Wind’s proposed offshore wind farm in Nantucket waters is an undersea cable running from the turbines 14 miles southwest of the island through the Muskeget Channel to Covell’s Beach in Centerville.
But fisherman Dan Pronk is worried that the impact the 84 turbines would have on the underwater ecosystem and the fishing industry is tremendous.
“There’s nothing good about it,” he said.
Pronk has fished for lobsters, crab, squid and other fish around the island for the past 33 years. Fourteen miles to the southwest, where Vineyard Wind has leased federal waters for its wind farm, he sets up strings of lobster traps running east to west, spaced a half-mile apart.
Pronk is a fixed-gear fisherman, meaning his equipment stays in the water, as opposed to mobile-gear fishermen, who trail their nets behind their boats to catch fish. Most of Pronk’s gear is set up around the Vineyard Wind site, where he usually finds a good number of lobsters, he said.
“There’s no question that the lobsters, the shellfish, they’re all going to leave,” he said about the repetitive noise from pile-driving 84 turbine anchors 160 feet into the sea floor. “It’s going to essentially be like setting off atomic bombs in the ocean.”
The only time there would not be any construction on the turbines or the cable would be from Jan. 1 to April 30, after Vineyard Wind, in an agreement with the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation, agreed to halt operations in order to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale during its yearly migration from southern waters.
“We’re asking for constant monitoring in the case a whale comes into the area,” National Wildlife Federation campaign manager Amber Hewett said. “These whales aren’t entirely predictable. If it comes into the area, all activities would need to cease until the whale passes.”
After construction of the wind farm, the foundation of each turbine would be covered by mounds of rocks for stabilization, and the cables would be buried five to eight feet beneath the ocean floor, Vineyard Wind policy and development manager Nate Mayo said.
The time it would take for vegetation around the cable to regrow would be a matter of weeks, he said, as it did above the cables that connect Martha’s Vineyard to Woods Hole.
“The recovery time around the Martha’s Vineyard cable was very quick,” he said. “After six weeks, you couldn’t figure out where it had gone.”
Two weeks ago, Pronk spoke at a meeting of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the Atheneum expressing several other concerns he had about the project. One of those was navigation.
“If you throw a turbine there, I still have to get around it, and then other fishermen have to get around those turbines and they’re going to get caught up in my lines,” he said.
“The big fear is Vineyard Wind says we can fish there when they’re done, but it’s either the fixed-gear guys or the mobile-gear guys, not both,” he said.“They expect us to navigate through that, it’ll be impossible. The closest Coast Guard Station with helicopters is Menemsha. By the time they get to us, we’ll be gone.”
There’s no guarantee life will return to the seafloor once the project is complete, or how long it will take, Pronk said. He also questioned how fish and shellfish would be affected by the noise and vibration from the spinning turbine blades that will travel down the monopole towers into the ocean.
The project has sparked concerns from other communities as well, including in Rhode Island, where state Fishermen’s Alliance president Richard Fuka raised his concerns to Vineyard Wind directly.
Fuka also owns a boat-repair shop in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. His customers run their boats south of Nantucket for squid, he said. He argued that finding squid would become an issue if turbines were installed in the area.
“Sediment upwelling takes place when you put a lot of metal objects in and create a deviating path of tidal flow,” he said. “The bottom of the ocean is a very sensitive ecosystem. This project takes food sources and habitat away from squid, groundfish, crabs, lobsters. It creates a desert of ocean bottom.”
He pointed to the United Kingdom, where more than 30 wind farms produce roughly 30 percent of the country’s total energy. The fishing industry there has taken a hit as a result, he said.
“The main concern is the destruction that happens on the bottom of the ocean,” he said. “Nantucket has a precious ecosystem that needs to be protected.”
The Rhode Island Fishermen’s Advisory Board recently accepted a $4.2 million compensation package from Vineyard Wind that would be doled out over 30 years to fishermen in the state for lost access to fishing grounds, and another $12.5 million in a fund that would cover additional costs to fishermen from the project. No such compensation has been offered to Nantucket fishermen.
Fuka called the money “political theater at the expense of a food source.”
Pronk proposed moving the project farther offshore or onto dry land, or dramatically increasing the compensation to the fishing industry.
“The big fight in the fishing community is, they say they’re going to compensate us, and if you take two years to build the thing, you’ve got to pay us,” Pronk said. “It’s going to take a few years to regenerate the area. How much would it cost to pay us back for lost time, or to even open a lobster hatchery?”
Mayo expects onshore construction in Centerville to start by the end of the year. Offshore construction would begin early in 2020 and take about two years, he said.
The $2 billion wind farm is expected to generate approximately 800 megawatts of energy, or enough to serve about 400,000 homes.
The project is just one of up to seven that could be constructed in the waters south and southwest of Nantucket.
Four other companies – Mayflower Wind, Equinor, Bay State Wind and Orsted – also have leased land for adjacent offshore wind farms, prompting concerns about the visual effect of so many turbines.
“It will damage views from Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and it will damage tourism in these areas,” said Nantucket architectural designer Val Oliver, a member of the town’s Historic District Commission who has formed a group called ACK Residents Against Turbines. “We are being asked to trade our existing ecological community, which is our identity and trademark, to satisfy the pervasive, feel-good propaganda that they are pitching.”
The turbines would only be slightly visible from Nantucket on the horizon, and only on a clear day, Mayo said. They would also be equipped with an Aircraft Detection Lighting System that would only activate when a plane is nearby. In total, the lighting system would be on for about 25 minutes a year, he said.
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