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Last week’s federal approval of Vineyard Wind’s first-in-the-nation project was hailed as the start of the offshore wind era – and the project that moves up in the state’s queue is introducing itself to more residents as it prepares for its own turn under the microscope.
Mayflower Wind, the Shell and Ocean Winds North America joint venture, selected unanimously by Massachusetts utility executives in 2019 to build and operate an 804-megawatt wind farm about 20 miles south of Nantucket, held the first in a series of virtual open houses Tuesday night to explain its project and answer questions from residents.
The second offshore wind farm to secure a contract with Bay State utilities, Mayflower Wind expects to get the state and federal permitting ball rolling in 2022, with the wind farm scheduled to be in operation by mid-December 2025.
“We anticipate the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BEOM, will conduct its environmental and technical review of the project’s construction and operations plan – as well as the state level, with reviews led by the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office and the Electric Facilities Siting Review Board – will get underway in 2022,” External Outreach Manager Christopher Hardy said during the virtual presentation.
Hardy added, “And along the way, there will be a number of opportunities for the public to get involved and provide input into the project in the overall review process.”
Public input and involvement was a central theme to Tuesday’s event, which covered everything from the basics of wind energy generation to electromagnetic fields. The presentation and questions made clear that one of the most controversial issues revolves around where and how the power generated miles out at sea will come ashore and connect into the grid.
Hardy said Mayflower is working with grid operator ISO-New England to ensure the power can safely and reliably be connected into the grid, and that the studies looking at ways to minimize impacts to the community and environment from the grid connection and onshore transmission are among the project’s most critical.
Falmouth beaches eyed for grid connection
Mayflower is assessing two possible locations for its export cable to come ashore in Falmouth: Surf Drive Beach and Falmouth Heights Beach.
“No final decisions have been made. Those will continue to be evaluated and presented in the regulatory filings that I mentioned earlier,” Hardy said. “We are committed to working with federal, state, local permitting agencies, local neighborhood associations and all the residents to ensure that we minimize any community disruption.”
At either location, the plan is to keep the export cable buried about 50 feet below the surface until reaching “a more disturbed parking lot area behind the beach” where the cable would remain underground but at a depth of 3 to 10 feet “so as to completely avoid making any impacts to the beach,” Hardy said. He said Eversource and Comcast successfully did the same at Surf Drive Beach in 2014.
“At the end of the day, what the average beachgoer will see would be a manhole cover in the parking lot (with) all the infrastructure itself buried below the surface,” he said.
From the beach, the cable would run under existing roadways until reaching a substation “far inland to the north in Falmouth” at a location yet to be determined.
Hardy also gave a detailed answer about whether the project’s export cable would create or contribute to electromagnetic fields on public streets in Falmouth, which he said is a question “that we have received from a number of residents in Falmouth.”
He pointed residents to Mayflower’s website and a consultant’s memo that says the cable’s electromagnetic fields would pose no safety risks. Mayflower said the “extremely low frequency EMF associated with the Mayflower Wind project will be substantially lower than” the public exposure guidelines established by the International Commission of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
Concerns voiced by Nantucket residents
A bit closer to the 127,388-acre swath of ocean where Mayflower Wind plans to generate electricity, residents and officials on Nantucket have concerns of their own, and last week’s approval for Vineyard Wind could offer a template for addressing them.
The Inquirer and Mirror on Nantucket reported last week that town and nonprofit leaders were preparing for Mayflower’s event Tuesday, and that the possible impacts from the wind farm and “what its construction could mean for the island’s designation as a national historic landmark” were open questions.
“Every effort should be made to reduce the visual impact, whether that’s moving back the turbines, using the (aircraft detection lighting systems) lighting, or painting the turbines a certain color,” Nantucket Preservation Trust Executive Director Mary Bergman told the newspaper.
The Nantucket Select Board met in executive session earlier this month to discuss its legal options related to the Mayflower Wind project, according to an agenda and a report in the Inquirer and Mirror.
The town took similar steps around the Vineyard Wind project in 2019. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management agreed there could be a negative visual impact on the island’s standing as a National Historic Landmark, and elements of the project were redesigned to “avoid direct physical impacts to a number of submerged ancient landform features and to minimize visual impacts to the Nantucket (national historic landmark), the Gay Head lighthouse” on Martha’s Vineyard and “traditional cultural properties.”
BOEM wrote a number of conditions into its recent approval of the Vineyard Wind project, including that the developer not build any turbines in the six potential locations closest to Nantucket, that it install no more than 84 turbines (the current plan is for 62 turbines), that the turbines be outfitted with aviation warning lights that only activate when an aircraft is in the vicinity, and that the turbines be painted “an off white/grey color … to reduce visual contrast during daylight hours on historic properties.”
Specifically, the turbines must be painted “no lighter than RAL 9010 Pure White and no darker than RAL 7035 Light Grey” before the project can commence operations.
Vineyard Wind is also required to fund a “restoration and stabilization project for Gay Head Light to address the advanced state of corrosion of the lantern curtain wall” before it initiates any offshore construction.
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