The public hearing for Vineyard Wind’s proposed undersea cables continued at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission meeting Thursday night with overwhelming support for the project from students, business owners, homeowners, and engineers.
The only part of the Vineyard Wind project under the commission’s jurisdiction is a portion of the undersea cable that will run through Edgartown waters. The entire cable, which will connect electricity from the proposed wind turbines to a power station in Barnstable, would be 12.4 to 13.4 miles long, running north–south. Vineyard Wind is permitting a 2,600- to 3,300-foot corridor in the water, with two potential routes the cable could go.
In response to several heated exchanges concerning the project at the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting, Commissioner Richard Toole, who is leading the hearings, apologized, saying the last meeting “didn’t go very well.”
To better facilitate hearings, Toole described the rules that will be read before all public hearings going forward. The rules ask speakers at public hearings to keep comments relative to the project application being evaluated, and give the speaker five minutes to give their testimony unless the chairman extends the time. Commissioners then put a five-minute timer on the meeting room television screen.
Eighth grader Jocelyn Baliunas gave the first statement of the night in support of Vineyard Wind. Jocelyn was accompanied by her teacher Leah Dorr while she gave her testimony. “The Vineyard Wind project will be beneficial to this Island, with jobs and clean energy for hundreds and thousands of homes. The world is changing, and we need to change with it by taking a step toward cleaner and renewable energy.”
Julius Lowe, who owns an HVAC company on the Island, was another supporter of the project. “We need a project like this to wake people up to the reality that we need to change the way we think about our energy, where we get it, and the kind of projects we want to push forward with in order to inspire people to think outside the box we have created for ourselves. For too long we have externalized the cost of our lifestyles. We’ve relied on cheap energy and pushed that cost on the environment, on the natural world in general, animals, plants, and in extension future generations,” Lowe said. “This cable needs to happen.”
Zoe Turcotte and Timothy Penicaud, Island teachers who own a home near Wasque Reservation on Chappaquiddick, said their property looks out over the water where the cables will be placed.
“I can’t wait, and I really, really hope we get this done, and I look forward to us being a model for the entire United States,” Turcotte said.
“So it definitely can be in our backyard, even though it might change some view — not really, it’s a cable,” Penicaud added.
John Packer brought a six-inch-diameter section of cable that is used to connect the Island to the mainland. Vineyard Wind is proposing two 220-kilowatt tri-core export cables made of aluminum or copper. A highly engineered solid plastic insulation is used in lieu of fluid to minimize chances of a leak, and the cables will be buried under the seafloor. The cables would be 10 inches in diameter.
John Keene of Chilmark handed a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) report to the commission on the potential effects cables have on migratory patterns of native fish species. Keene said he was concerned fishing would be negatively affected. The commission said they would add it to their review.
At the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting, the hearing was cut off after several heated exchanges between Toole and Helen Parker, a Chilmark resident who opposes the project.
Parker opposes the project on grounds that the turbines will have a detrimental effect on the health of Island residents from infrasound, which is sound below the level of human hearing.
At Thursday’s meeting, Parker, who was given 15 minutes of testimony because her husband and another member of the public offered their time for her to speak, focused on the economics behind a large-scale wind farm project.
“Wind is purely additive, redundant, and counterproductive to our aims. It increases fossil fuel usage, it increases CO2,” Parker said. “The worst, scariest aspect of this proposal is an enduring blackout.”
Members of the public who support the project cautioned the commission against false information.
Jonah Maidoff, a teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and supporter of the project, said he is skeptical of some of the information presented to commissioners by opponents. “I would also caution that we seriously look at the claims they’ve made … and whether those claims are substantive,” Maidoff said.
Similarly, West Tisbury resident Tom Hodgson said the cable is not dangerous. “In the course of investigating some of the source material that has been presented against this particular project, I’ve come across ones that are rated very high in terms of pseudoscience, very high in terms of conspiracy theory,” Hodgson said. “I would urge all of you to very carefully examine anything that anyone presents as a backup when they’re making their point.”
Representatives from Vineyard Wind were given a chance toward the end of the hearing to respond to the public’s statements.
Ted Barten, an environmental engineer and a co-founder of Epsilon Associates, a consulting firm, told commissioners a study was done by the University of Rhode Island to look at any effects from undersea cables on marine life. “Power is basically voltage times amperage, so the cable that we’re using is a much higher voltage and hence proportionally lower amperage, which means the magnetic fields are not proportional to the power nor to the voltage, they’re proportional to the current,” Barten said.
The basic study found that there were no negative effects, and animals could freely move across and around undersea cables.
Barten went on to say the two proposed cables emit a low magnetic field strength, or milligauss (mG). Humans and animals are exposed to electromagnetic fields every day, such as the earth’s magnetic field, which measures about 500 milligauss. Measurements directly above the undersea cables measure at 40 milligauss.
“For those who have had an MRI at some point in their life, [they] were in a field of something like 10 to 15 million milligauss. So, like in many things in life, a little perspective is helpful,” Barten said.
After an hour of public testimony, Toole closed the public hearing, but left the written record open until March 28.
Executive director Adam Turner said in all, there were 87 letters to the commission, with 48 in favor of the project. The majority of the 39 opposed were from off-Island sources.
In other business, chairman Douglas Sederholm shared a letter from commissioner Ben Robinson that asks for a more assertive force addressing climate change. Sederholm appointed Robinson to a climate action task force along with commissioner Joan Malkin, to work on addressing climate change issues.
The commission closed out the meeting by entering executive session to discuss their meeting with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and possible litigation.