BARNSTABLE – Fourteen members of the Cape Cod Commission issued a thumbs-up Thursday night to Vineyard Wind’s plans to lay cable in Barnstable as part of its offshore energy project.
With the majority vote, the commission adopted as final the draft decision prepared by the commission staff, subject to 18 conditions. One other member abstained due to his short time on the commission.
Within a week, the offshore wind development company is expecting a positive decision from the state Energy Facilities Siting Board as well as on landing high-voltage cables at Covell Beach in Centerville and burying them under roads for 5 miles to a new substation off Independence Way. From the substation, the company intends to connect to an Eversource substation next door, leading to the introduction of wind-powered electricity into the regional grid.
Vineyard Wind has signed contracts to sell 800 megawatts of electricity annually to three electricity distributors in Massachusetts. The company intends to break ground on a $2 billion wind farm later this year, in a tightly scheduled effort to take advantage of expiring federal investment tax credits. The wind farm itself, to be built on leased federal land 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, is being permitted by federal agencies, but the cables will need to pass along land under state and local control.
The 84-turbine wind farm would be the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the country.
“We’re pleased with the review that we got, and we’re pleased with the decision,” Nathaniel Mayo, Vineyard Wind’s policy and development manager, said after the commission hearing.
The commission, as a regional planning agency, seemed well positioned to synthesize the information about the cable-laying project and understand where the priorities were, Mayo said.
Starting with an April 9 public hearing attended by 30 people, commission staff generally has heard positive comments about the project, according to Jonathon Idman, the commission’s chief regulatory officer.
“There have been a few letters we’ve received in the last few days that were in opposition to the project,” Idman said. He called the contents of the letters “a little off base,” too broad and authored from people outside the commission’s jurisdiction.
The project is consistent with county and town of Barnstable planning goals and related bylaws, subject to local regulatory decisions and state exemptions for zoning; the probable benefit of the project is greater than the probable detriment, according to the commission’s decision.
The 18 conditions include a list of plans and designs that Vineyard Wind still needs to provide, including the final design for the substation, which was of particular interest for the town of Barnstable to protect public drinking water wells for Hyannis from leaks of transformer, or dielectric, fluids.
Last year, the company signed what amounts to at least a $16 million host community agreement with the town of Barnstable. Among other provisions, the agreement wiill provide for a containment system at the substation that is sized to capture 110 percent of the fluid used at the facility. Since the April 9 public hearing, the company has ceded to the town’s request to add design provisions to the substation that would accommodate up to 30 inches of rainfall as well, according to Theodore Barten, a project consulting engineer for Vineyard Wind.
The town has agreed to put all proceeds from the agreement in a water stabilization fund for future water infrastructure development, Idman said.
“It’s been a real concern to all of us, and Vineyard Wind understands,” Barnstable Assistant Town Attorney Charles McLaughlin said. “We’ve got to get this right.”
Commission members asked about job opportunities for local people; specifics about the laying of cable, such as the disturbance of benthic habitat and the possible impact of sea level rise; how wind energy would complement other regional power sources; and how the company intends to provide 6 acres of open space in exchange for land cleared for the substation.
As one of the 18 conditions, the company has committed to providing the open space, Idman said. Another condition requires the company’s final substation design plans to provide for visual and sound screening for a nearby residential development.
The state Energy Facilities Siting Board meets Thursday to consider Vineyard Wind’s cable-laying plans.
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