DONG Energy meets and greets Islanders

Representatives of the Danish wind farm giant met with fishermen in Chilmark Tuesday to describe their plans south of the Island.

This map shows the approximate location of the proposed DONG wind farm south of the Vineyard. — Dong Energy

Representatives from Danish Oil and Natural Gas (DONG), one of the leading energy groups in Northern Europe, and developers of what will be the largest offshore wind farm array in the world in the Irish Sea, presented their wind farm concept for the waters south of Martha’s Vineyard to a group of mostly local fishermen at a meeting in Chilmark town hall Tuesday.  There was a 20-minute presentation followed by questions.

The project is approximately 15 miles south of the Island and could potentially supply up to 1,000 megawatts of power providing electricity to 500,000 Massachusetts homes, according to company representatives.

Each turbine typically generates between 7 and 8 megawatts of power, although at the time of construction the company expects to have the use of 10 megawatt turbines that could reduce the overall number needed.

The company has 6,600 employees, with 2,300 of those dedicated to offshore wind. DONG currently has 18 projects under operation, plus four under construction and 12 under development, including the proposed project south of Martha’s Vineyard, called Bay State Wind.

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, representatives of DONG met with various Island groups and organizations including the members of the Rotary club, the Vineyard Conservation Society, The MV Times, and fishermen.

Feds’ initiative

Selectman Warren Doty reminded the group about the proposed project’s recent history. “The federal government, with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), spent several years in a planning process to come up with an area south of Martha’s Vineyard that would be a federal area for wind farm development,” said Mr. Doty.

DONG holds a lease for 187,523 acres in the offshore area BOEM designated for wind farm development. Lauren Burm, public affairs manager for DONG Energy, introduced Thomas Brostrom, general manager for North America. Mr. Brostrom said that DONG Energy has constructed and operates one-third of the world’s wind farms and is on track to have installed 6.5 gigawatts by 2020. He explained that the project is in the extreme early stages, but that he and his team are trying to get out early and touch base with stakeholders.

Still spinning

Mr. Brostrom said that the company’s first wind farm was built off the coast of Denmark 25 years ago and that “the turbines are still spinning.”  DONG was founded largely on natural gas exploration, but company leaders came to the realization six to eight years ago that “like it or not, renewable energy is the future,” he said.

Mr. Brostrom said that an area survey is a critical early step to see what the seabed looks like in that area. Mr. Doty reminded the group that DONG Energy was told that March was an ideal time for the survey, as in May the fishing nets would get destroyed and in July it would interfere with the setting of lobster gear.

A March survey is not happening, but Mr. Brostrom told the group a survey must happen sometime in 2016 for the project to push forward.

He said there are two basic criteria needed for a successful wind farm:  good wind, and water that is not too deep. Both conditions exist south of the Vineyard.

“The type of wind in this spot is very unique and is on par with the best spots in the North Sea,” Mr. Brostrom said.

He cited the benefits: clean, reliable energy at a time when costs are coming down, and job creation. Mr. Brostrom said that a typical DONG Energy project generates 1,000 construction jobs, and then later, jobs for service and maintenance would create about 100 jobs over the 25-year farm operation period.

One member of the audience asked if preference for jobs would be given to young people on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Brostrom said it was too early to make that call, but that it would depend on skill sets.  

Mr. Brostrom’s colleague, Carolyn Heeps, said she expects that local universities and other educational facilities will begin to develop training programs to give these young people the skills to develop careers in offshore wind.

Mr. Doty spoke on behalf of fishermen. “We have discussed many times how important it is that the wind farm is developed in a line or in a grid or configured in some way that fishermen can work with,” he said. “What kind of a layout will the farm have and can it be done with fishing alleys in between?”

Mr. Bostrom said they need the information about the seabed first.

“An important point is that there is quite a distance between the turbines,” said Pernille Hermansen, consent project manager for DONG Energy.  There is at least three-quarters of a mile between turbines, she said. There is also a 50-meter exclusion area around each turbine. Both of these factors are dictated by the Coast Guard and not by DONG Energy.

The question was asked, can the fishing industry and the wind energy industry coexist out on the water?

“We have seen evidence in the U.K. that it’s possible to coexist,” said Ms. Hermansen. “There are lots of fishermen that have gone back into the wind farms that are now operational.”

“Put something in the water and we’ll hit it,” Mr. Doty jokingly reported was the sentiment of some local fishermen.

John Keene, of Keene Excavation, asked who is liable for the repair if a fisherman hits something, or breaks a cable or equipment. “That’s a question we’ll take back with us,” Mr. Brostram said.

“The cables will be buried,” said Ms. Hermansen. “We want to make sure nothing happens to them.”

Another local fisherman asked about traffic flow for the maintenance of the farm. “Is there going to be a lot of traffic going back and forth?” Ms. Hamansen said there would be some traffic for maintenance, but also there would be a “floatel” – a large boat that would house workers for weeks at a time.

In theory, if everything went favorably for Bay State Wind, the earliest construction would begin is in “the early 20s” and construction would take about three years, according to Ms. Hermansen. There is approximately a 25-year life to a wind farm, and a decommissioning plan will also be part of the upfront planning process.