Fishing industry representatives from all along the East Coast sent an urgent missive to Governor Charlie Baker on Monday, asking him to delay this month’s selection of the company that will construct the nation’s first industrial-scale offshore wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.
The National Coalition of Fishing Communities (NCFC) cites three key concerns: the project size, the lack of study on potential impacts, and a lack of communication with the fishing industry from potential developers.
Three companies have bid to construct wind farms in the ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard, as part of a roughly 1,600-megawatt procurement mandated by a 2016 energy diversification law.
One of the companies, Vineyard Wind, has proposed projects capable of generating 400 megawatts or 800 megawatts. Vineyard Wind is a partnership between Vineyard Power, Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables.
There are two other companies in the running: Deepwater Wind, which built America’s first offshore wind farm near Block Island, R.I., and Bay State Wind, a partnership between Denmark-based Ørsted and Eversource.
In a nine-page letter to Baker, the NCFC said outreach by all three entities has been woefully inadequate, and has amounted to “window dressing”:
“We therefore seek your immediate, direct involvement to ensure that our concerns are promptly given the attention they deserve; and if further time is needed to address these issues, then we ask you to consider delaying the April selection.”
If the selection is not delayed, the NCFC urged the commonwealth to scale back the first wind farm to no more than 400 megawatts, to allow fishermen, scientists, and regulators to better determine the impact of offshore wind farms. “The Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Fisheries Working Group is making efforts to address the problem, but a detailed study plan that enjoys broad support among fishing stakeholders is urgently needed,” the letter states. “We do not have any confidence that the situation will improve without firm direction from state and federal policymakers.”
The NCFC also points out that two of the three bidding companies have Danish partners. “The U.S. Continental Shelf is not the North Sea, and our fisheries and fishing operations are also very different.”
Responding to the NCFC letter, the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs stated, “Since 2009, the commonwealth’s engagement efforts include over 100 public meetings and workshops, and close coordination with both the Fisheries Working Group and the Habitat Working Group. Through the advice of the Fisheries Working Group, the commonwealth recommended to BOEM a 60 percent reduction in the size and location of the offshore wind planning area, to avoid priority fishing areas identified by the working group. We continue to work with the commercial and recreational fishing industries, scientists and technical experts, offshore wind developers, and local communities to advance the science and studies necessary to support the environmental reviews and development of siting, construction, and operations plans.”
Moving forward, the NCFC suggested enlisting the New Bedford Port Authority (NBPA) as the “central facilitator” for discussions between the offshore wind and offshore fishermen. “The NBPA has the technical expertise and the credibility within our community that is essential to effective communication and problem-solving among stakeholders. Moreover, as a public entity, the NBPA is in a unique, independent position to operate in this role,” the letter states.
The NCFC warns that failure to act now could set an adversarial tone for years to come: “If the nascent offshore wind industry fails in its relationship-building in in this first round of procurement, then negative consequences will extend far beyond.”
Vineyard Wind has hired a fisheries representative, and is planning to fund research by UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology to study the effects of the upcoming construction on fishing, representatives told The Times on a recent visit.
On Tuesday afternoon, state and local politicians joined representatives of Vineyard Wind and Vineyard Power at the Tisbury Wharf Co. for a ceremony to mark the beginning of a Vineyard Wind operations and maintenance facility on Vineyard Haven Harbor. In a recent press release, Vineyard Power president Richard Andre estimated the facility would sustain 50 or more local jobs.
Bay State Wind says it is also investing in outreach. “Bay State Wind is 100 percent committed to the fishing industry in New Bedford and throughout Massachusetts,” the company said in a press release. “We are the only project that has hired a marine biologist to ensure that we protect marine species and do not interfere with migration patterns, and we will continue to work closely with the fishing industry in the South Coast to minimize disruption and to preserve fish stocks for future generations.”
On Friday, U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced the sale of two new offshore wind lease areas off Massachusetts, and a high-level assessment of all Atlantic Coast waters for potential offshore wind lease locations, which the American Wind Energy Association said in a press release is a “major boost” to the industry.
The DOI press release indicates up to 390,000 acres south of Martha’s Vineyard will be available for lease. The notice is being published in the Federal Register Wednesday, opening up a 60-day comment period.
Islanders will have the opportunity to comment on what needs to be addressed in the Vineyard Wind Impact Statement. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold a “scoping session” on Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday, April 17, at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center in Tisbury. There will be an open house from 5 to 8 pm with a presentation and Q and A at 6 pm.
Comments will be accepted until April 30.
Reporter Rich Saltzberg contributed to this report.