Commercial fishing interests are pushing back on the idea that each of the offshore wind developers holding leases off the New England coast would place their turbines in a uniform layout to create a navigable grid, a proposal the developers said is intended to address the concerns of fishermen.
Installing all turbines in fixed east-to-west rows and north-to-south columns spaced one nautical mile apart, the developers said, would create a grid across the seven lease areas and hundreds of predictable navigation corridors for fishermen and other mariners. It could also address one of the concerns thought to have led to the federal government effectively freezing the Vineyard Wind 1 project until it can learn more about the new industry as a whole.
In a joint statement announcing the proposal Tuesday morning, the five developers said their proposal would mirror an arrangement that is “preferred by many stakeholders, including fishermen operating in the region.”
“This uniform layout is consistent with the requests of the region’s fisheries industry and other maritime users,” the five leaseholders – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Orsted, Eversource and Vineyard Wind – said in a statement. “The proposed layout specifies that turbines will be spaced 1 nautical mile (nm) apart, arranged in east-west rows and north-south columns, with the rows and columns continuous across all New England lease areas.”
But the claim that the newly proposed layout would satisfy the requests of the fishing industry did not entirely hold up once the developers’ plan was released publicly Tuesday morning.
An organization that advocates on behalf of the scallop industry – which accounted for 80% of the value of landings in New Bedford, the highest-value commercial fishing port in the country in 2017 – said its members were not consulted and the developers’ proposal does not reflect the concerns of the scallop industry.
“It is also unclear how this unsupported proposal, delivered to the Coast Guard for the stated purpose of addressing other maritime interests, will benefit commercial fisheries or promote fishing vessel navigational safety. One nautical mile spacing between turbines neither allows for safe transit nor viable fishing, at least from the scallop fishery’s perspective,” the Fisheries Survival Fund said in a statement. “Further, scallop fishermen neither transit nor fish based on east-west or north-south orientations. We fish on contours based on depth, and we transit on geographic diagonals to and from our fishing grounds. Simply put, we were not consulted on this proposal, have not supported this proposal in the past, and do not support it now.”
Tensions between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind developers have been a constant thread as the new industry looks to establish its roots in the United States.
A group that includes fishing industry associations and fishing companies “with an interest in improving the compatibility of new offshore development with their businesses,” the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, took something of a middle ground. It did not say that it opposed the proposal, but said it wants to see what the Coast Guard’s own study conclude and questioned the timing of the developers’ announcement.
“After a series of workshops regarding the need for transit corridors in the New England lease areas, our membership was united in supporting the Coast Guard’s efforts to evaluate navigational safety through its [Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study], which is scheduled for release shortly,” RODA said in a statement. “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. We look forward to the results of those ongoing studies and a transparent discussion of their outcomes.”
The Environmental League of Massachusetts also commented on the proposal but did not say whether it supports the idea.
“The offshore wind leaseholders off New England have proposed using a uniform layout of turbines creating navigation corridors for fishermen and other vessels,” ELM tweeted Tuesday morning. “This shows developers are taking siting issues seriously and offshore wind can co-exist with other ocean uses.”
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island last week criticized Vineyard Wind for not doing enough to work with the fishing community before determining how it would configure its 84 turbines. He said the way Deepwater Wind went about working with fishermen as it designed its five-turbine project off Block Island was a better model of how these developments should interact with the fishing industry.
“We’ve had the same position all along from the very beginning, which is that if you do it the traditional Massachusetts way, the Cape Wind way, you end up with a disaster, because you end up with a huge, long battle,” Whitehouse said in an interview with E&E News published last week. “If you do it the Rhode Island way, which was the Deepwater Wind way, you end up with steel in the water and electrons on the grid.”
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