An offshore wind farm planned for the waters off Martha’s Vineyard, combined with the “cumulative” effects of a larger build out of thousands of wind turbines off the East Coast, could have “major” impacts on the commercial fishing and shipping industries, a long-awaited federal study has found.
The draft report by the Interior Department, released this week, was initially prepared as a required environmental impact statement to examine the effects of Vineyard Wind, a proposed 800-megawatt wind farm off the Massachusetts coast. But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management delayed its release to study the broader impact of more than a dozen wind farms from the Carolinas to Maine.
“Considering that wind energy is a growing industry, BOEM decided to expand its cumulative impact analysis and has concluded that approximately 22 gigawatts of Atlantic offshore wind development is reasonably foreseeable,” the report said. A gigawatt of offshore wind power (equal to a thousand megawatts) can power millions of homes.
The 420-page report explores a range of options for the Vineyard Wind and finds most options for completing the work will have moderate to negligible impacts on marine mammals, sea turtles, environmental justice issues, cultural resources, and recreation and tourism.
The analysis assumes big projects planned for New York, including the South Fork Wind Farm being built by Orsted for LIPA, Equinor’s Empire Wind for New York State, and Orsted’s Sunrise Wind, also for New York, are part of that larger “cumulative” build out of offshore wind.
The study found the “overall cumulative impacts on commercial fisheries and for-hire recreational fishing” could be “major” because the fishing industry “would experience unavoidable disruptions beyond what is normally acceptable” because of lost fishing ground, construction, navigational hazards and lost fishing gear.
But, the study concluded, those impacts could be reduced by measures such as financial compensation to affected fishermen, and uniform spacing and layout of turbines “across adjacent projects.” At present, the study noted, compensation measures for fishermen “are not currently in place for other future offshore wind projects.”
The Vineyard Wind project and “other future offshore wind development would impact commercial fishing revenue,” the report states, with potential losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to the millions.
While some fisheries, including recreational sectors, could benefit from the presence of fish around turbine structures, the report notes that there is “not a single alternative or combination of alternatives that substantially reduces the [major] impacts” on commercial fishing.
Rating the impact as major, BOEM said, 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.”
The report also noted impacts on the navigational shipping lanes also could be major, a finding that is “primarily driven by the construction, installation, and presence of offshore wind structures, and the increased risk of vessel allision and collision and associated threat to human health.”
Vineyard Wind didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which plans to contract for some 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind for the state, in a statement said it was “carefully reviewing” the report “to understand any potential implications for New York’s nation-leading advancement of offshore wind projects that are under development or that are planned in the future.”
Stakeholders have 45 days to respond to the draft report, and BOEM said it plans to hold public hearings during that time to gauge responses.