A group of wind farming companies with hopes of building soon off the North Atlantic coast of the United States released on Tuesday their proposal to the US Coast Guard (USCG) for how to consistently position turbines across the region in a way that they believe will satisfy safety concerns raised by commercial fish and shellfish harvesters.
The proposal includes requiring a minimum of one nautical mile (1.2 miles) between each turbine and an east to west configuration, just as harvesters earlier asked.
However, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a group of 160 commercial harvesters and processors with vessels spread across nine states and operating in about 30 different fisheries, said on Tuesday morning that it would rather wait on the results of a scientific study from the USCG – expected soon – before accepting the wind industry’s plan.
And the Fisheries Survival fund, a group that represents Atlantic scallop harvesters, has flat out rejected the wind industry’s proposal, saying it doesn’t meet their needs.
The fight between the commercial fishing industry and the wind farming industry in New England has been going on for several years but seemed to hit a boiling point in August. That’s when the US Department of the Interior – with encouragement from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – ordered a delay of its final environmental impact statement for the $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind project.
What would be the country’s first offshore wind farm – with 80 giant turbines spread out over a 118-mile stretch of ocean nearest the state of Massachusetts – was previously scheduled to begin construction in 2019 and be operational by early 2022. It was to be followed by several other wind projects of similar size in seven lease areas also off the Atlantic Coast.
Responding in large part to concerns raised by commercial fishermen about their ability to navigate the waters around the turbines and the potential impact on local squid and other fish, DOI ordered further study by its Bureau of Ocean Energy and Management.
Disagreements continued this year with the 15-turbine South Fork Wind Farm proposed by Orsted and Eversource in Rhode Island Sound, the Providence Journal reports. 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, according to the newspaper.
Simultaneously, the USCG has been in the midst of coming up with consistent spacing and layout recommendations for all offshore wind farms via its Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study (MARIPARS), an undertaking the federal agency announced in May.
Scallop industry was not consulted
Many of the issues raised by the commercial harvesters are covered in the proposal sent over to USCG by Vineyard Wind, Orsted Offshore Wind, Eversource Energy, Equinor and Mayflower Wind, the five companies believe.
“This uniform layout is consistent with the requests of the region’s fisheries industry and other maritime users,” they said in a press release bringing attention to their comments. It “will allow mariners to safely transit from one end of the New England Wind Energy Area to the other without unexpected obstacles”, the group said.
But RODA wants to wait. In a telephone call with Annie Hawkins, RODA’s executive director, she said many of the suggestions made earlier were regarding Vineyard Wind in particular. Different parts of the ocean may attract different species of fish at different times of the year and involve different kinds of vessels and harvesting equipment.
Nobody in the fishing industry has yet offered a comprehensive list of recommendations for all wind farms on the Atlantic Coast, she said.
“The spacing and orientation of wind turbines is not only determinative of fishery access, but more importantly a critical safety issue,” RODA said in its statement issued Tuesday. “…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.”
RODA was supportive of the Coast Guard’s efforts to evaluate navigational safety through its MARIPARS study, which could come as early as January, and Hawkins suggested Undercurrent study her group’s six pages of comments made in relation to that.
“Fishing vessels operate in different ways throughout [wind energy arrays, or WEAs] and fishermen have different points of view regarding many aspects of wind energy development,” the comment letter reads. “Despite these differences, one position that has absolute agreement amongst the large number of vessel owners and operators (both RODA members and non-members) is that transit lanes through wind energy arrays must be a minimum of four nautical miles wide in order to accommodate safe passage, and further studies must be done to ensure that radar interference will not occur within that distance.”
The Fisheries Survival fund on Tuesday took a a stronger stand, meanwhile. The Atlantic scallop group said the windfarmers didn’t consult with it about its plan, and they are deadset against it.
“It is unclear what industry requests these developers are responding to, but this proposal does not reflect the position 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,” the group said.
One nautical mile spacing between turbines doesn’t allow for safe transit or viable fishing, the scallop harvesters said. Also, 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.”
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