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Feds release Vineyard Wind environmental assessment

Federal regulators on Tuesday released a detailed, 420-page environmental assessment of the proposed Vineyard Wind project that includes predictions about the future of wind energy along the East Coast and suggests the impact on commercial fishing of six possible wind farm configurations would be roughly the same.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put Vineyard Wind on hold last year to take a look at the project through the broader lens of what’s going on in offshore wind overall along the East Coast. The resulting assessment, called a supplementl to the company’s draft environmental impact statement, forecasts 22 gigawatts of offshore wind development along the East Coast over the next 10 years, the equivalent of about 2 percent of current electricity production. The analysis estimates as many as 2,000 wind turbines will be installed over the 10-year period.

Vineyard Wind would be located off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard and consist of between 57 and 100 turbines producing 800 megawatts of power. The project is jointly owned by Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management studied the environmental impacts of six different layouts for the wind farm, including one that had not been previously considered. The new layout, put forward by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, which represents fishing interests, called for a navigation lane four miles wide cutting through the wind farm area to provide a more direct and safer route for fishing vessels headed primarily from New Bedford to George’s Bank.

The analysis found none of the alternative layouts provided any significant advantage for the fishing industry. “The overall cumulative impacts of any alternative when combined with past, present, and reasonably foreseeable activities on commercial fisheries and for-hire recreational fishing would be major,” the report said. “This impact rating is driven mostly by changes to fish distribution/availability due to climate change, reduced stock levels due to fishing mortality, and permanent impacts due to the presence of structures (cable protection measures and foundations).”

The assessment also found that the configuration with a navigation lane reduced the amount of power produced by the wind farm areas in Rhode Island and Massachusetts by about 3,300 megawatts.

Mark Kresowik, regional director of the Sierra Club, said he compared the new environmental impact assessment released on Tuesday to the one that had been done previously. He said the difference in environmental impacts between the two were minimal.

“What the offshore wind developer has proposed is probably the best,” he said, referring to a proposal to place the farm on an east-west orientation and maintain spacing of one mile between turbines.

The environmental assessment identifies dozens and dozens of impacts from the wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts and others coming along the coast. Five impacts were identified as major – on the area where the power cable from the wind farm comes ashore in Yarmouth, on navigation,on fisheries, on scientific research, and on military and national security.

Anne Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, said she was still studying the environmental assessment. “At a first glance, RODA sincerely thanks BOEM and the Secretary of Interior for considering additional alternatives that would provide much-needed safe transit options for fishermen,” she said in a statement. “As is clear from our previous comments, we also agree with the re-characterization of fisheries impacts as ‘major’ and will provide more detailed comments as to these impacts and the content of the supplemental environmental impact statement in the near future.”

According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, it intends to take public comment on the supplemental environmental impact statement over the next few months and issue a final decision on the best way forward in December.

Vineyard Wind originally said it planned to begin construction this year and complete work in late 2021. The company, which couldn’t be reached for comment on Tuesday, has said it is still committed to the project.