Vineyard Wind sails forward

Project has support of legislators.

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A chart shows the process for going from leasing to operations for offshore wind projects. Vineyard Wind 1 is close to the end. — Courtesy Bureau of Ocean Energy

Atlantic waters 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard are again poised to be the site of a milestone that potentially rivals Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek Valley in U.S. energy significance. 

In June, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on Vineyard Wind 1, America’s first industrial-scale offshore wind farm. In doing so, BOEM effectively resuscitated the 84-turbine wind project, after it signaled last summer it wasn’t ready to sign off on a draft environmental impact statement published in December 2018. The SEIS came as a result of public commentary and governmental input received on that draft environmental impact statement. 

One of the more contentious issues about the project has been the subject of turbine spacing, and the corridors through the turbines used for vessel traffic. Vineyard Wind previously agreed to spacing of one nautical mile in width, and was subsequently joined by the other wind developers who won federal leases off Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This spacing would be oriented in north-south, east-west columns. Diagonal transit lanes for fishing vessels slightly narrower than one mile were also supported by Vineyard Wind and fellow leaseholders.

A U.S. Coast Guard study completed in January found one-mile widths to be adequate for search and rescue as well as fishing purposes. The study also found “0.6- to 0.8-nautical-mile-wide northwest-to-southeast paths would allow commercial fishing vessels to continue their travel from port, through the lease areas, and to fishing grounds,” according to the SEIS. 

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), an advocacy group for fishing interests, along with other fishing organizations, has pushed for four-mile-wide transit lanes through the turbines for safe mobile gear fishing and safe general navigation. In general, fishermen have been the strongest critics of the project. Among the “potential unavoidable adverse impacts” to the fishing industry cited in the SEIS are “disruption to access or temporary restriction in harvesting activities due to construction of offshore project elements, disruption to harvesting activities during operations of offshore wind facility,” and “changes in vessel transit and fishing operation patterns.”

On the other hand, the fishing city of New Bedford, which will be the hub for the construction of Vineyard Wind 1, is roundly considered to be on the verge of an economic boom as a result. In Vineyard Haven, an operation and maintenance facility to service Vineyard Wind 1 and other wind farms that follow is progressing through the permitting process. ACE MV students have begun courses to prepare themselves for careers as wind farm technicians, and are likely to find themselves with well-paid on-Island work as a result. 

In a comment letter to BOEM, state Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro) and state Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Falmouth) topped a group of state legislators in support of Vineyard Wind 1.

“Vineyard Wind alone will generate at least 3,600 jobs, and reduce costs for ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion, according to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources,” the letter states. “A recent report from the American Wind Energy Association found that by 2030, the offshore wind sector will employ more than 80,000 people from North Carolina to Maine, and lead to $25 billion in annual economic output. That kind of economic potential, if realized, would be a game changer for people in our region and across the country, the kind of investment that can rebuild communities and create new opportunities for families.” 

The SEIS remains open to public comment until July 27. Thereafter, BOEM will access commentary and make a determination on whether it will approve a final environmental impact statement. This is the penultimate step before offshore construction.