Supporters of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind energy project came out online June 26 to call on the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to approve the 800-megawatt plan in southern New England waters, with spacing turbine towers in a 1 nautical mile grid.
“Vineyard Wind 1 is the most significant step we can take” for reducing carbon emissions in Massachusetts, said Tom Soldini of Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., adding that the company will provide 40 to 50 permanent jobs to the island community.
Friday’s public hearing – staged using the Zoom virtual meeting app with public comment by telephone – was the first step in a 45-day public comment period on BOEM’s new supplemental environmental impact statement on the Vineyard Wind project, and its broader look at the cumulative impacts of 15 more offshore wind projects planned along the U.S. East Coast.
The agency plans to arrive at recommended alternatives for Vineyard Wind in November and finalize those with a formal record of decision by Dec. 18.
BOEM is looking at one scenario for four-mile-wide vessel transit lanes through wind energy leases off southern New England – referred to as alternative F in its supplemental environmental impact statement. That concept was proposed in January by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, a coalition of commercial fishing groups.
The axis of one lane in the RODA plan would be a pathway through Vineyard Wind between New Bedford, Mass., and the Georges Bank fishing grounds. But at the end of May, the Coast Guard released its own port access study that recommended against wide transit lanes.
The Coast Guard instead endorsed a consistent 1 nautical mile grid layout for wind turbines proposed by Vineyard Wind and the developers of neighboring leases. The Coast Guard study concluded that setting aside wider designated traffic lanes would funnel vessels closer to each other and would result in turbines being built closer together outside of the lanes.
That would complicate navigation within the turbine arrays, and the Coast Guard’s search and rescue mission when its vessels and aircraft need to go in and rescue mariners, the study concluded.
As an alternative to the RODA proposal, the 1 nautical mile spacing between turbines still offers a “predictable course” and “traffic dispersal” for fishing fleets that transit the arrays, said Arianna Baker, a navigation analyst for BOEM. The Coast Guard has concurred with BOEM’s findings in the supplemental environmental impact statement, she said.
In the virtual public hearing, Vineyard Wind supporters said the Coast Guard’s acceptance of 1 nautical mile turbine spacing shows the wind and fishing industries can coexist. Reducing the numbers of turbines planned by Massachusetts state energy officials and developers could threaten the viability of those projects and the state’s goals for clean energy, they said.
“The professionals have spoken,” said Soldini.
“The success of Vineyard Wind is crucial to the success of the U.S. offshore wind industry,” said Abby Watson, head of government affairs for turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa North America.
Requiring the four-mile transit lanes “will substantially reduce the area available for development without substantially improving the safety of navigation,” she said.
BOEM officials heard from others who see a revitalization of New England’s maritime industry on the horizon.
Wind energy can “foster and grow and entire new U.S. workforce, particularly in New England,” said Maria Hanna, president and CEO of Survival Systems USA Inc., Groton, Conn., a marine and aviation training company that has already added wind energy training to its offerings.
David Borrus, business manager for Pile Drivers and Divers Local 56 of Massachusetts – which is using a $100,000 grant from Vineyard Wind in 2019 to train its members – said the environmental impact statement shows southern New England’s commercial fishing and other maritime industries can coexist.
“I can tell you the first two divers on that initial project at the (New Bedford) marine terminal were born and raised in New Bedford,” said Borrus.
“We’re looking at probably between 20 and 30 years of work,” and wind power employing the future generations just in school today, said David Araujo, president of the Southeastern Massachusetts Building Trades Council.
“Hopefully the goalposts will not be moved again,” Araujo added. “We’re at the goal line and we’ve got to get over it.”
BOEM will hold four more virtual public hearings on Tuesdays and Thursdays this week and next: June 30 at 1 p.m. Eastern, July 2 at 5 p.m., July 7 at 1 p.m., and July 9 at 5 p.m.
For instructions on how to join the meetings, including links to the scheduled Zoom meetings and call-in telephone numbers, go to BOEM’s virtual meeting page at https://www.boem.gov/Vineyard-Wind-SEIS-Virtual-Meeting