The offshore wind power industry cleared one of its last remaining bureaucratic hurdles Wednesday with the release of a long-awaited report from the Coast Guard that essentially agrees with an industry proposal on turbine layout.
The Coast Guard’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study has concluded that turbines should be spaced 1.2 miles apart and oriented in the same direction across seven offshore wind lease areas totaling around 1,400 square miles south of Nantucket.
Concerned with vessel safety and the ability to maneuver while fishing, some fishermen and industry groups sought larger lanes, as wide as 4 miles, to transit to fishing grounds, but the five wind power companies holding the leases said that would force them to crowd turbines outside the travel lanes, making it less safe to navigate and fish.
The offshore wind leaseholders – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Orsted/Eversource and Vineyard Wind – had been concerned that some of the layouts proposed by other stakeholders could reduce the number of turbines and power generation. The increasing efficiency and power capacity of newer turbines have alleviated some of that concern.
“The layout, while less than ideal from power generation standpoint, will ensure continuity of fishing, safe navigation and search and rescue throughout the entirety of the wind development areas,” a Vineyard Wind spokesman said via email.
American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan also applauded the Coast Guard study, which was undertaken after the fishing industry, wind power companies and other stakeholders could not reach agreement last year on layout and spacing within lease areas.
In remarks in the Federal Register, the Coast Guard concluded that a uniform grid pattern “will result in the functional equivalent of numerous navigation corridors that can safely accommodate both transits through and fishing within the (wind energy area).”
Some were concerned that a large field of wind turbines hundreds of feet high with large blades would affect vessel radar, and the Coast Guard acknowledged in the study that there was no comparable wind farm in the U.S. to test that theory. But it cited studies that showed while there may be some impact, it would not make radar inoperable.
The report put the onus on mariners, advising that vessels exercise due caution when operating within a wind farm, including assessing the skill and experience of those on board, vessel condition and size, weather conditions and that a critical decision should be made on whether to transit during the day or night.
Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a commercial fishing organization that participated in the failed process to come up with a compromise layout, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. In a Twitter post Wednesday night, the group called the study “a public process failure, putting at risk those men and women who still go out to work every day so that Americans can eat, even while sheltering in their homes.”
Orsted spokeswoman Lauren Burm said her company applauds the Coast Guard’s “exhaustive, methodical examination of navigation safety” and the company, which holds a lease in conjunction with Eversource under the name Bay State Wind, looked forward to working with all stakeholders.
A Vineyard Wind spokesman said this report meant that it had just one more major regulatory benchmark, the release of the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management environmental impact statement, which it expected would come next month.
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