FALMOUTH, MA – The Falmouth Select Board on Monday approved the first step for Mayflower Wind to construct an offshore wind farm that would touch down in town.
Mayflower Wind, a joint venture between Shell and EDP Renewables, is in the early phases of building an 804-megawatt wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, part of which would be off Falmouth’s coast. If completed, submarine export cables would run north through Muskeget Channel and west toward Vineyard sound before making landfall in Falmouth. The wind farm would be powered by an onshore substation further inland in town.
The board and Mayflower Wind agreed on a temporary right-to-entry which allows for tests to be conducted at two beach parking lots. Under the agreement, Mayflower Wind will have 180 days to gather data on the soil conditions at Surf Drive and Falmouth Heights beaches. Mayflower Wind will also perform sound level measurements at 565 Blacksmith Road, a possible site for a substation. But according to Seth Kaplan, a director of external affairs for Mayflower Wind, it’s not known yet where the substation will ultimately be.
Several residents wrote letters to the Select Board with concerns about the proposed wind farm. Some were upset that abutters haven’t been notified yet, while others were worried about the potential health effects of the electromagnetic fields used in the project.
Kaplan said nearby residents were not notified because Mayflower Wind doesn’t have a proposed location for a substation yet. He said it’s impossible to notify abutters without knowing the location.
As for the electromagnetic fields, Gradient, a third-party group of specialists, completed preliminary assessments and determined the magnetic field levels for the underground cables in the proposed project are below guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
Gradient Principal Peter Valberg told the select board that health organizations have spent years researching potential health effects of electromagnetic fields and have not found enough correlation between them and cancer.
Select Board member Samuel Patterson, a retired scientist, said people often overgeneralize electromagnetic fields by thinking they are all dangerous.
“These frequencies are 60 cycles per second and have never been shown to do any damage to our chemistry or cell structures,” Patterson said. “When you overgeneralize, electromagnetic fields are very different at different frequencies.”
Patterson also added that microwaves are tens of thousands of frequencies higher than the proposed cables.
The testing approval doesn’t mean the project has been fully approved but allows Mayflower Wind to explore options in town.
“We’re not talking about the beginning of a relationship yet,” Kaplan said. “We’re waving to each other from across the street in expectation of hopefully entering a relationship.”
Depending on the tests, Mayflower Wind will decide whether to install the cables in Falmouth. The next step put be seeking federal, state and local permits and then coming back to the select board to enter a host community agreement.
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