Groups representing New England fisheries are objecting to a recently released proposal regarding the future spacing of offshore wind turbines.
Five companies that hold leases for offshore wind projects in New England – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Ørsted/Eversource, and Vineyard Wind – released a joint statement calling for a uniform layout of the wind turbines. The companies are calling for a 1 nautical mile spacing, arranged in east-west rows and north-south columns.
“In response to feedback from key stakeholders, we have proposed to adopt a uniform turbine layout across our adjacent New England lease areas,” the companies said in the joint statement. “This uniform layout has subsequently been proposed to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for its review.”
The spacing, according to the statement, is “consistent with the requests of the region’s fisheries industry and other maritime users.”
A report put together by the industry indicates that the traffic is generally “transiting around, or along the outside edges, of the wind energy area” and that vessels “up to 400 feet in length can safely operate within the proposed 1×1 nautical mile layout.”
However, two groups representing the interests of fisheries in the region – the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) and the Fisheries Survival Fund – both issued statements of their own objecting to the one nautical mile spacing, and the findings of the wind industry’s report.
“It is unclear what industry requests these developers are responding to, but this proposal does not reflect the position of the scallop industry,” the Fisheries Survival Fund wrote in a statement. “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.”
The proposed spacing, according to the fund, is inadequate, and doesn’t take into account the specific needs of the scallop industry.
“One nautical mile spacing between turbines neither allows for safe transit nor viable fishing, at least from the scallop fishery’s perspective. 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,” the Fisheries Survival Fund wrote. “Simply put, we were not consulted on this proposal, have not supported this proposal in the past, and do not support it now.”
RODA, while less directly opposed to the proposal, is calling for any proposal on spacing to wait for an upcoming report from the Coast Guard.
“The spacing and orientation of wind turbines is not only determinative of fishery access, but more importantly a critical safety issue. 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 MARIPARS study, which is scheduled for release shortly,” RODA’s statement reads.
The MARIPARS, or “Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study,” is evaluating the need for establishing vessel routing measures.
“The goal of MARIPARS is to enhance navigational safety by examining existing shipping routes and waterway uses,” a summary of the study, posted to the Federal Register, states. “The recommendations of the study may lead to future rulemaking action or appropriate international agreements.”
For RODA, the results of that study will be a key part of the ongoing discussion over the wind turbine layout in the wind energy area.
“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 organization states.
Wind projects in the region have been the subject of going debate with the fisheries industry for multiple years. Vineyard Wind, planning an 800-megawatt wind farm off the Massachusetts coast, recently hit permitting and construction delays, and NOAA scientists have said the current proposals for wind projects could impact the viability of the organization’s fishery surveys.
Recently, the New England Fishery Management Council and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently posted a new website in order to inform the fishing industry about the ongoing debate over offshore wind, as well.
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