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South Fork Wind Farm to reduce turbines but fishing group has ‘serious concerns’

Developers of a planned offshore wind farm to power the South Fork have agreed to reduce the number of turbines for the LIPA-contracted project to 12 from 15, but Rhode Island fishermen offered a $12 million compensation package say the turbine reduction won’t help and the package is inadequate.

Orsted and Eversource, partners on the $2 billion-plus project set to be built off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts by 2023, disclosed the change last week before a Rhode Island coastal commission that is considering whether to issue a permit for the project.

In a statement, the companies said they will “move forward with the reduction of the project’s total turbines from 15 to 12,” while offering a compensation package for Rhode Island fishermen. The $12 million, if accepted, would cover lost earnings, among other things, for those kept from fishing either by construction or placement of the turbines themselves.

Fishing group: ‘It’s just not a good deal’

But the Fishermen’s Advisory Board in Rhode Island is opposing the package, according to a report in the Providence Journal. A lawyer for the group, Marisa Desautel, said the group has “serious concerns with the lack of information provided by Orsted” about the mitigation fund, including how it will be paid out. The package, to be paid over 30 years (or reduced to $5.2 million if taken as an upfront payment), was below a scientific study that estimated potential losses to fishermen of $15 million to $40.4 million, according to the paper.

“It’s just not a good deal,” said Desautel. “We think the impacts are going to be intense and potentially have a greater impact during construction.”

The companies had already agreed to space the turbines one nautical mile apart in a concession that the developers said would address shipping and commercial fishing concerns in the turbine fields. Meaghan Wims, a spokeswoman for the developers, said commercial trawlers would continue to be able to fish among the turbines, but Desautel said the fishermen she represents “don’t think they can safely navigate through that area, and boating insurance is a major issue.”

Orsted and Eversource’s statement said the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council staff is recommending a “consistency certificate” for the project, or permit, to move forward. A vote by the council could come as early as next week, after a public comment session.

Newer models have more capacity, companies say

The reduction in turbines won’t reduce the project’s power output of 130 megawatts, enough to power up to 70,000 homes, the companies have said. Newer turbine models are taller and have greater power capacity. South Fork is expected to use 11-megawatt turbines, Wims said.

Asked if the companies were prepared to offer a similar compensation package for New York fishermen who trawl in that area, Wims said they are eligible for compensation for “gear loss due to interaction with project equipment activities, and for temporary displacement of commercial fishing during construction, maintenance and decommissioning.

LI fisherman says his losses in thousands

But one Long Island fisherman who applied for compensation had his claim, and a subsequent appeal, rejected. Montauk lobsterman Vinny Damm claimed in papers submitted last year an Orsted survey boat destroyed or lost thousands of dollars in gear while in waters around his traps. Orsted, he said, denied its boats were responsible. Wims declined to comment on “any individual gear-loss claim.”

Attorney Desautel said the same is happening to fishermen in Rhode Island waters. “Fishermen are suffering real harm,” due to gear loss from the survey work, she said, adding, “None of their claims have been paid out.”

Wims said New York fishermen who fish in federal waters impacted by the project are “subject to an ongoing process at the state and federal level” for a potential compensation package. Fishermen have been demanding a compensation package for New York for years.

Wims noted that South Fork Wind Farm has “committed to five years of fisheries research” as part of the state permitting process.

Separately on Tuesday, Orsted and Eversource said their Sunrise Wind offshore wind power project for the Long Island electric grid will employ what’s expected to be the first American-made offshore wind installation vessel. To date, the vast majority of that work is done by European vessels. The new boat is being built in Texas by a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy.

he first U.S. offshore wind project was built off Block Island by Deepwater Wind using a Norwegian offshore wind construction vessel. Orsted, based in Denmark, later acquired Deepwater. Sunrise Wind is expected to be in service by 2024