BOSTON – The U.S. Coast Guard has concluded that the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the offshore wind development areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket is to install turbines in a uniform layout to create predictable navigation corridors.
The results of the Coast Guard’s Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study are largely in line with a proposal that the five developers that hold leases for offshore wind sites off New England made late last year to orient their turbines in fixed east-to-west rows and north-to-south columns spaced one nautical mile apart.
Having a consistent turbine layout across the seven adjacent lease areas, the companies said, would provide fishermen with the benefit of not having to change their practices as they pass from one lease area to another, and would promote safe maritime navigation. The Coast Guard agreed.
“The USCG has determined that if the MA/RI [Wind Energy Area] turbine layout is developed along a standard and uniform grid pattern, formal or informal vessel routing measures would not be required as such a grid pattern will result in the functional equivalent of numerous navigation corridors that can safely accommodate both transits through and fishing within the WEA,” the Guard wrote in a summary of its findings published in the Federal Register.
When the wind energy companies put forward their proposed 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.” Again, the Coast Guard agreed and sided with the developers over the objections of commercial fishing interests that pushed for six designated lanes, each four nautical miles (nm) in width, through which they can travel without encountering any of the hundreds of turbines that could some day populate the waters.
Earlier this year, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, representing commercial fishing interests, asked the Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to adopt a uniform grid layout and to consider requiring 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.
In the summary it published in the Federal Register, the Coast Guard acknowledged receiving “various comments … concerning navigation corridors,” including from groups that had asked for navigation corridors between 2 and 4 nm in width. But the Coast Guard concluded that the larger corridors would “actually provide far less area than the numerous corridors that result from the recommended array and spacing.”
“Additionally, the project developers have made clear that larger corridors, even though fewer in number, would result in reduced [Wind Turbine Generator] spacing for the WEA. Because the reduced turbine spacing makes navigation more challenging, most traffic would then be funneled into the corridors thereby increasing traffic density and risks for vessel interaction,” they wrote. “Furthermore, the recommended standard and uniform grid pattern provide sufficient space for certain vessels that fish in the WEA to continue fishing after the wind farms are constructed. If the WEA provided several larger corridors as some commenters proposed, the reduced turbine spacing would largely preclude fishing in the WEA, an area of almost 1400 square miles.”
In a Wednesday night tweet, RODA responded by calling the Coast Guard’s final study “A public process failure putting at risk those men and women who still go to work every day so that Americans can eat, even while sheltering in their homes.”
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.
In a joint statement issued with the proposal to adopt a uniform grid layout, the New England offshore wind leaseholders – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, 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.
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.
In February, BOEM confirmed that it expects a decision on a final permit for the Vineyard Wind project will come by Dec. 18. Vineyard Wind had originally planned to financially close on its project and begin on-shore construction work in 2019, put the first turbine into the seabed in 2021 and have the 84-turbine wind farm generating electricity in 2022.
Instead, Vineyard Wind has said the project that’s tied to the state’s efforts to fulfill the mandates of a 2016 clean energy law will not become operational until at least 2023.
The 804-megawatt Mayflower Wind project – a joint venture of Shell and EDPR Offshore North America chosen unanimously by utility executives in the state’s second offshore wind energy procurement – is expected to be operational by December 2025.
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