PROVIDENCE – The developers planning offshore wind farms in the waters off Rhode Island and Massachusetts have agreed to space turbines one nautical mile apart and lay them out in uniform rows from east to west and columns from north to south in what they say is a bid to work with the commercial fishing industry and other ocean users.
The companies, which include Vineyard Wind and Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, have submitted the proposed plan to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is in the midst of coming up with consistent spacing and layout recommendations for all offshore wind farms to ensure that fishing boats and search-and-rescue teams can navigate safely through them.
It comes as the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the federal agency that oversees the offshore wind industry, has put a hold on the regulatory process as it reviews the issues raised by fishermen.
The developers, which also include Equinor, Mayflower Wind and Orsted’s partner Eversource Energy, say their proposal meets the needs of fishermen and others.
“In addition, independent expert analysis provided to the [Coast Guard] confirmed that this uniform layout would provide for robust navigational safety and search and rescue capability by providing hundreds of transit corridors to accommodate the region’s vessel traffic,” the companies said in a statement.
The companies’ proposal announced Tuesday morning comes after clashes with fishermen who have argued that previous plans submitted to federal and state regulators with tighter and inconsistent spacing would essentially block them out of huge tracts of the ocean by making it unsafe for their boats. They have called for spacing between turbines of at least one nautical mile (1.2 miles).
They have also insisted that wind farms be oriented from east to west because that is the direction they fish in and the direction in which they have divvied up the waters off southern New England between mobile-gear boats, such as trawlers, and fixed-gear vessels, such as lobster boats.
Representatives of the fishing industry said they are waiting to see the results of the Coast Guard study.
“Any project layout must be supported by evidence that the pattern minimizes risk to fishing and scientific survey vessel operators based on analyses of radar interference, insurance limitations, operability of search and rescue operations, and related factors,” the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a group that represents fishermen, said in a statement. “We look forward to the results of those ongoing studies and a transparent discussion of their outcomes.”
The conflicts between the offshore wind industry and fishermen arose last year with Vineyard Wind’s first project, an 84-turbine array that would be built south of Martha’s Vineyard in an area frequented by boats that catch squid and other fish. The company oriented the project from northwest to southeast and with some turbines spaced three-quarters of a nautical mile apart.
Disagreements continued this year with the 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm proposed by Orsted and Eversource in Rhode Island Sound. The two companies laid out the wind farm in three rows running east to west, with one nautical mile between each row, but the spacing between the turbines going north to south was smaller, averaging about 0.7 nautical miles, and irregular.
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