Commercial fishing interests have put forward a proposal for how wind turbines should be laid out across the waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, asking federal rulemakers to consider establishing miles-wide, designated transit lanes that offshore wind energy developers have resisted.
In a letter sent to the U.S. Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management last week, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance asked that the agencies consider giving fishing vessels and other mariners six lanes, each four nautical miles in width, through which they can travel without encountering any of the hundreds of turbines that could soon populate the waters.
The fishing industry proposal builds off of a “1×1” grid pattern that the five companies holding leases for offshore wind sites off New England have said they plan to adopt.
In November, the developers jointly pitched a uniform layout of turbines that would create hundreds of predictable navigation corridors for fishermen and other mariners by installing all of their turbines in fixed east-to-west rows and north-to-south columns spaced one nautical mile apart. RODA said in its letter that it did not have “direct input into that proposal, and it does not represent the needs and requests that fishing industry participants have clearly and consistently documented through public meetings and on the record.”
When the developers made their proposal, RODA did not say that it opposed the proposal, but questioned the timing of the developers’ announcement and said it wanted to see what the Coast Guard’s own study concluded.
The fishing group’s proposal adopts the idea of a “1×1” grid, but wants the additional 4 nautical-mile transit lanes “to preserve safe and efficient passage along the routes most often used by fishermen.”
Having 4 nautical miles of space – rather than either 0.7 nm or 1 nm, depending on the direction of travel, under the developers’ plan – would allow for “sufficient sea room for large enough alteration of course, made in good time, to avoid close-quarters situations and passing at a safe distance” and provide other safety and navigational benefits, RODA said.
Tension between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind developers has been a constant thread as the new industry looks to establish its roots in the United States.
When the wind energy companies put forward their proposed “1×1” arrangement that would create “231 transit corridors in four cardinal directions,” they asked the Coast Guard to adopt the proposed layout “with no additional designated transit corridors.”
“The existence of numerous corridors, in multiple directions, consistently across all lease areas, would be preferable to having a restricted number of designated transit lanes,” the companies wrote. “Because most of the vessel traffic in the [New England Wind Energy Area] are fishing vessels … and fishing vessels utilize a wide variety of transit paths, having the ability to safely transit in any of four cardinal directions from any point within the NE WEA best accommodates the largest number of vessels operating in the area.”
The designated travel lanes envisioned in the RODA letter would bisect the offshore wind lease areas in a few locations, but the fishing group says its proposed layout “should not affect the projects with existing state procurement agreements, and should therefore not impact any project’s ability to meet its pricing goals.”
RODA also noted in its letter that “fishermen are willing to compromise on the precise location on each of these transit lanes in order to accommodate project plans.”
When it released its “1×1” grid proposal, the offshore wind developers also submitted a report conducted by maritime safety consultant W.F. Baird & Associates Ltd., which concluded “that sufficient corridor width for vessel maneuvering can be maintained within the (New England Wind Energy Area) without the need for dedicated transit lanes assuming the application of a uniform spacing across the entire WEA and a suggested limit of 400 ft vessel length.”
In a joint statement, the New England offshore wind leaseholders – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Ãrsted/Eversource and Vineyard Wind – said their proposal “strikes a balance between renewable energy production and the concerns that the fishing industry has previously expressed” and cautioned that ocean area dedicated to maritime navigation in any proposal means less area for clean power generation.
“Context here matters: The proposed 1×1 nm array layout will significantly reduce the amount of clean energy that can be delivered to New England and New York. Including even more and even wider transit lanes would unnecessarily decrease the amount of clean offshore wind energy available to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change and to serve the needs of electricity customers in New York and New England,” the developers said, adding that they look forward to continuing to work with the Coast Guard, the fishing industry and others “to ensure the continued coexistence of every ocean user in the region, including offshore wind.”
As the Coast Guard works on its own Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study, RODA asked that officials “at a minimum give (the RODA proposal) equal consideration to that presented by the developers” and analyze it “for its effects on safety, including considerations of various weather conditions, search and rescue operability, radar interference, changes in vessel movement patterns and congestion associated with offshore wind energy installations, and other relevant factors.”
Though the layout of turbines for offshore wind projects has been a point of contention between developers and the fishing industry, it is not the issue holding up the launch of the industry.
Vineyard Wind 1 – a $2.8 billion project to operate the country’s first utility-scale wind farm off the American coast – awaits the results of a supplemental review of the wider impacts of the burgeoning offshore wind industry that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management began in August.
Meanwhile, state officials involved in the selection of Mayflower Wind as the second project to deliver about 800 megawatts of power to Massachusetts expect that the electric distribution companies and Mayflower will submit long-term contract agreements to the Department of Public Utilities for approval by Friday.
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