Martha’s Vineyard community airs offshore wind farm concerns

Martha’s Vineyard community airs offshore wind farm concerns

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Panelists from the Federal government's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management included, from left, Renewable Energy Program Specialist Jessica Bradley, Program Analyst Timothy Redding, and Renewable Energy Program Manager Maureen A. Bornholdt. — Photo by Janet Hefler

The visual impact of a wind turbine farm proposed in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and its effects on marine life topped the list of concerns Islanders discussed with state and Federal energy officials Monday night.

About 50 people attended the public information meeting hosted by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

Officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) also attended to give information and take public comment on a recent call for information and nominations for an area proposed for commercial wind energy development.

The 826,241-acre area is on the outer continental shelf off Massachusetts, about 12 nautical miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 13 nautical miles southwest of Nantucket.

The meeting met some unexpected turbulence at the start when Stephen Yeomans of Aquinnah, wearing a headband with a light on it, raised his hand.

“Do you know you have a flashing light on?” assistant secretary for EAA Bill White asked him.

“If you can’t stand this light, what do you think we’re going to have to face every day for the rest of our lives, looking out at the south side of the Vineyard, thousands of these blinking lights,” Mr. Yeomans said. “I think it’s totally outrageous.”

Mr. White thanked him for his comments and moved on. He said that state renewable energy officials continue to meet with a fisheries work group that includes Chilmark selectman Warren Doty and other Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen Association members.

As a result of discussions with them and other task force members, EAA has learned about and taken into account important issues such as fisheries and fish habitat, migratory mammals, and navigation channels, Mr. White said.

Maureen Bornholdt, program manager for BOEM’s office of offshore alternative energy programs, explained the wind farm development process and reminded everyone it is still early in the game.

“There is no wind farm; we’re not even at stage two, which is the leasing stage,” Ms. Bornholdt said. “We’re still in the siting, planning and analysis stage…this is an opportunity to continue to gather information.”

She encouraged Islanders to send in comments by email or regular mail to BOEM before the 45-day public comment period closes on March 22. More information is available in her presentation, which will be posted online next week at www.boem.gov/Renewable-Energy-Program/State-Activities/Massachusetts.aspx.

In comments from the audience, Bill Connolly of Edgartown complimented the officials for investigating the issues thoroughly and questioned why there was no mention of visual impact. He asked how tall the wind turbines would be and whether they would be visible from the Island’s shoreline.

Ms. Bornholdt said more specifics about visual impact would be included in the construction operation plan stage, when developers offer more details about the wind turbines they plan to build, particularly their height.

Jonathan Mayhew, a Chilmark selectman and long-time commercial fisherman, suggested the exclusion of two blocks in the proposed wind turbine area about 8 miles from Noman’s and 12 miles from Squibnocket, because they would be harmful to fishermen.

Jo-Ann Taylor, the Martha Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) coastal planner, recommended timing construction to avoid the migration periods for whales that visit Vineyard waters.

Peter Cabana of Tisbury, an MVC commissioner and representative to Cape Light Compact and Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, asked how much energy the wind farm area produce.

Mr. White said he did not have an answer for that yet. “Probably in 2017 and beyond, we’re moving towards a project that would most likely be 400 turbines to produce 4 gigawatts of electricity,” he estimated.

That would cover about 70 percent of electricity needs for all households in Massachusetts, which translates to about 1.7 of the state’s 2 million homes, Mr. White said.