The survey vessel Henry Hudson will be working out of Vineyard Haven Harbor for the next three weeks, part of an effort by Vineyard Wind to map potential routes for cabling from its proposed wind farm 15 miles off the southern coast of Martha’s Vineyard.
On Monday morning, officials from Vineyard Wind and its partner Vineyard Power, which represents about 5,000 Island customers, offered tours of the Henry Hudson to showcase not only the technology aboard the vessel, but the potential for the Vineyard to see some economic impact from wind farm projects.
Vineyard Wind is one of three companies looking to be the first to locate a wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. The companies have to submit final bids by Dec. 20, and one of the companies will be selected to move ahead in April.
Also on Monday, Deepwater Wind announced that it has begun work on its 144-megawatt proposal, which will also incorporate a 40-megawatt battery storage facility, spokesperson Meaghan Wims said. The Deepwater project, which is known as Revolution Wind, also announced that construction will be staged out of New Bedford if the company wins the bid.
A spokesman for Bay State Wind, a collaboration between DONG Energy and Eversource, did not return a call seeking comment.
One of the ways that Vineyard Wind is attempting to set itself apart is by completing the geological surveys for a potential cabling route from the farm to the mainland on Cape Cod, Erich Stephens, Vineyard Wind CEO, told The Times. The company, which teamed up with international powerhouse Avangrid Renewables in May, is looking for areas where it will be the least expensive and least disruptive environmentally to lay cable six to 10 feet below the seabed.
“We’re looking to build sooner, with the least amount of environmental impact,” Mr. Stephens said. By demonstrating that willingness, the company can show regulators it can be a part of the state’s greenhouse gas solution, and take advantage of tax credits for offshore wind that are being phased out — a benefit for ratepayers, he said. Another potential plus is local jobs.
“Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t have the infrastructure for construction staging, but once the wind farm is built, it could provide a home base for operations and maintenance jobs,” Mr. Stephens said.
During Monday’s tour, Robert Mecarini, president of Alpine Ocean Seismic Survey, and Steve MacDonald, senior project manager for the company, showed the nearly $1 million worth of equipment onboard Capt. Eric Houtray’s vessel. The sub-bottom profiler and something they call “the boomer” provide data that shows if they’ll have a clear shot at burying cable or if there are obstructions like shipwrecks or huge boulders in the way.
“As the vessel moves along, we can see it in real time,” Mr. MacDonald said, pointing to a computer screen with vibrant colors. “It looks like we’re painting the subfloor.”
The Henry Hudson will be going in and out of Vineyard Haven every day on a 7 am–to–7 pm schedule collecting data. Workers from the boat, who total about 12, will be staying at a Vineyard house during off hours. “Hopefully contributing to the local economy,” Mr. Mecarini said.
A second vessel, the 110-foot Shearwater, will also be doing a geotechnical survey of the proposed routes. That vessel is being staged in New Bedford, but may make stops in Vineyard Haven as well.
On each of the vessels, there are scientists to collect and analyze the data, but there are also mammal experts to make sure the work doesn’t have an adverse impact on whales, dolphins, or fisheries.
A map distributed by Vineyard Wind shows they’ll be looking at paths to the east of Martha’s Vineyard through the Muskeget Channel, or possibly going through Nantucket. The Nantucket path could benefit that island, which has only two transmission cables for electricity, Richard Andre of Vineyard Power said. While Martha’s Vineyard has three cables, if Nantucket were to add a third it would cost islanders $75 million that they would have to find a way to fund, he said.
Vineyard Wind adding to Nantucket’s power supply could be seen as an overall benefit in the bid process, Mr. Andre said.
The cabling paths avoid the area of Nantucket Sound where the proposed Cape Wind project owns a lease for 130 wind turbines. That project has been on hold for several years, and is considered dead by some, though the lease remains in effect.
On Tuesday, Audra Parker, CEO of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, blasted the final environmental impact statement released by federal officials, which she says ignores public comments by her group, the Steamship Authority, and elected officials opposed to keeping the lease open.
“That lease is valid until 2041, giving Cape Wind the right to build or sell it to another developer,” Ms. Parker said. “As long as Cape Wind holds the lease and vows to build, the Sound remains vulnerable to industrial development.”
Reached at his Boston office, Jim Gordon, CEO of Cape Wind, said the project is awaiting a federal permit.
In recent years, the project has lost is commitments for power-purchase agreements, and failed to get a permit for transmission lines.
Asked if the project is moving forward, Mr. Gordon said, “Yes, we are.” He declined further comment.
Ms. Parker said her organization hasn’t taken a position on the proposals off the southern coast of the Vineyard. The distinction between the Cape Wind project and those proposals is that the development sites were zoned by the federal government. “The process is better than a developer picking the site purely by profits,” she said.
A 30-day comment period is open on the environmental impact statement, she said.
Local officials impressed
Richard Toole, a commissioner on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, was on Monday’s vessel tour with Tisbury selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg.
“I like anything that is clean energy and saves us money,” Mr. Toole said after the tour.
Both Mr. Israel and Ms. Loberg also had positive feelings after their tour of the Henry Hudson.
“In the short term, I think it’s great,” Mr. Israel said of the use of Vineyard Haven Harbor by the company. Mr. Israel said he’s also trying to encourage the companies to help educate Vineyard youth for potential jobs. “They would have an in-home workforce, so to speak,” he said.
Ms. Loberg downplayed some issues raised by lobster fishermen and draggers who have criticized the wind farm, saying the impact will be limited.
“Once it’s done, there will be spawning, and [the area] could be a nursery for fish,” she said. There is also a potential to run tours the site, which is done in Europe, Ms. Loberg said. “I see it as a tourism thing, people wanting to go out and see them.”
If it wins the bid, the Vineyard Wind project has the potential to supply electricity for 300,000 homes, Mr. Stephens said.
“We’re moving quickly, on the assumption we’ll be the preferred project,” Mr. Stephens said.
Mr. Mecarini said his company, which has been involved with or had employees involved with other offshore wind projects, is excited to be working off the Vineyard.
“Offshore wind is a long time coming to the Northeast, and it’s going to bring in a lot of jobs,” he said.
Mr. Stephens said the Vineyard Wind project is at a critical stage. “We want to do this in the most economical way with the least amount of environmental impact,” he said.