Rhode Island fishing interests, given the authority to weigh in on offshore wind projects that could damage their livelihoods, are flexing their muscles. As a result, a 94-turbine wind farm planned for waters south of Martha’s Vineyard is in serious jeopardy.
Like Deepwater Wind’s South Fork Wind farm planned off of Montauk, the Vineyard Wind project is owned by European energy companies with global wind-farm interests. Rhode Island, as part of the permitting process, asked for and was given “Federal Consistency” because even though the project originates in Massachusetts, it affects fisheries in neighboring states. New didn’t ask for the right to weigh in, even though local fishermen extensively fish that area.
On Tuesday, November 27, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council agreed to postpone its decision to grant a “consistency certification” for Vineyard Wind until the end of January. If Rhode Island denies certification, Vineyard Wind could appeal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It is not clear how the latest news affects the Deepwater Wind project off of Montauk Point but it is sure to come up during the state’s review of the project. In fact, fishing industry proponents are urging New York State officials to be proactive in the review of any proposed offshore wind farm in the immediate region.
“Governor Cuomo should direct the Department of State to contact Massachusetts with an objection to its consistency certification. New York State should want it,” said Bonnie Brady, a representative of the fishing industry.
The developers of Vineyard, Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables LLC, need to settle objections from fishermen and CRMC staff in a timely manner. The project is under pressure to get approved so that it can meet deadlines for financing and qualify for a federal tax credit.
At issue is the layout of the project. Fishermen want wide corridors, specifically a mile or wider, oriented east to west. Current plans offer two one-mile corridors, with only one running east to west. As an alternative, Vineyard Wind has proposed using larger turbines with nearly 10 megawatts of capacity, thereby reducing the number of towers to 84 and shrinking the project’s footprint.
On November 21, the Fishermen’s Advisory Board, which advises the Coastal Resources Management Council on fishing issues related to offshore wind, voted unanimously to withhold its support out of fear that the layout of the project’s 84 towering wind turbines would close off fishing grounds that are considered some of the most productive for the state’s commercial fleet.
“The fishermen didn’t want to give them the extension,” noted Julie Evans, the East Hampton Fisheries representative. And while Rhode Island fishermen have a say in that project, “Deepwater ignored the fishermen in Montauk.”
Brady said the Block Island Wind Farm, owned by Deepwater, is only five turbines, tiny by comparison to Vineyard. Yet charter fishermen, who traditionally operate south of the wind farm from January through April, reported a dismal fishing season: the once bountiful cod had disappeared. Ørsted Energy, the parent company of Deepwater, like the owners of the Vineyard, have a practice of paying off fishermen whose livelihoods are damaged by the wind farms.
At the November 13 CRMC meeting, CRMC executive director Grover Fugate said redesigning the layout of the wind farm, known as mitigation, was preferable to paying the fishermen for lost revenue. Dean Wagner, an attorney representing Vineyard Wind, testified on November 27 that compensation was on the table. “Vineyard is committed to making the fishermen whole as required by the Ocean SAMP,” Wagner said.
But Evans and others in the industry fear that with literally thousands of wind generators planned for the North Atlantic region, there is a “real possibility there will be no fish out there to catch” and that, “all that will be left is the farm bred crap like Tilapia.”
Under the ambitious plan to go all in on offshore water generated power set by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state greased the skids to make it easier to get approval to develop offshore wind farms. In 2016 the NY Coastal Management Program was changed to read: “The state recognizes offshore projects directly connected to the New York Grid as qualifying as a water dependent use at the same level as though the facility were located in New York State.” In other words, the subtle change to “water dependent use” cuts through layers of red tape — and review.
New York is not the only state on the East Coast looking to set up shop offshore.
According to The Institute for Energy Research, Massachusetts has three new proposed offshore wind farms planned for an area 15 to 20 miles off Martha’s Vineyard and 30 miles from the Massachusetts mainland. Deepwater Wind, Bay State Wind, and Vineyard Wind are submitting bid documents that are due with state regulators on December 20.
Another proposed New York offshore wind project is Empire Wind, which is located off the southern coast of Long Island. The 79,350-acre site, secured by Statoil in a federal auction in December 2016, is expected to generate up to 1000 megawatts of offshore wind power.
More recently, New York requested the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to lease at least four new Wind Energy Areas off New York’s Atlantic Coast each of which would be capable of accommodating at least 800 megawatts of offshore wind Maryland utility regulators approved two wind farms off the coast of Ocean City. The project owners, U.S. Wind and Skipjack Offshore Energy, plan to build a combined 77 wind turbines with a capacity of 368 megawatts between 12 and 21 nautical miles off the coast of Ocean City at an estimated total of $2.1 billion. U.S. Wind has initial plans for 62 turbines located 12 to 15 miles off the coast of Ocean City at a cost of almost $1.4 billion. U.S. Wind plans to construct future phases, eventually raising the number of turbines to 187. Skipjack Offshore Energy will construct 15 turbines 17 to 21 miles off the coast of Ocean City at a cost of $720 million. That wind farm is expected to be operational toward the end of 2022.
In other words, it is possible that fisherman plying their trade in the North Atlantic will find fish harder and harder to come by until they reach the point that either it is not profitable to continue or that they will get paid by the power companies not to leave the port. “There will be no more fish,” Evans said.