Updated April 2
With America’s first industrial-scale offshore wind farm poised to receive final approval from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), fishermen continue to have reservations about potential impacts.
Vineyard Wind 1, a 62-turbine wind farm to be situated in the Atlantic 15 miles south of Aquinnah, is expected to get that final approval — a record of decision — from BOEM within a month.
Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a coalition representing fishing interests, has taken issue with the project from the get-go, notably the transit corridors. These are the lanes between turbine towers vessels would navigate through. Vineyard Wind and other developers that have leased sections of New England ocean for wind development have agreed to 1-nautical-mile transit lanes. RODA has long demanded wider lanes, preferably four miles wide.
That stance hasn’t changed, RODA’s executive director, Annie Hawkins, told The Times. Hawkins said a recommendation for wider lanes could have emerged from the project’s environmental impact statement, but that didn’t happen. Hawkins said the safe passage of fishing vessels, especially those towing any sort of mobile gear, is in question with the current spacing layout. It’s unknown if insurers will allow fishing vessels to travel inside Vineyard Wind 1 or the farms that will follow, Hawkins said.
“The underwriters won’t answer the question,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said squid, whiting, scup, and skate are active fisheries in the areas off Massachusetts and Rhode Island leased for wind farms. And while New Bedford’s multibillion-dollar scallop fleets don’t fish in the lease area, they do pass back and forth through it.
“We have a lot of scallopers at RODA,” Hawkins said. “They’re very concerned about the transit area.”
On the issue of transit lanes, and many others concerning offshore wind, Hawkins said RODA hasn’t been afforded the voice its members — fishermen — deserve. She said she was particularly concerned by standoffishness she claims the Biden administration is exhibiting with her organization. “They’re not reaching out,” she said. “They’re not being proactive. Everything is in a black box now.”
The Biden administration has continued to speak highly of offshore wind projects.
“The offshore wind industry has the potential to create tens of thousands of family-supporting jobs across the nation by 2030, while combating the negative effects of climate change. These new jobs will cover a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, installation, operations, and maintenance and support services,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said in a statement Monday. “We are committed to active engagement with all stakeholders and partners to ensure the responsible development of renewable energy resources in federal waters.”
Nevertheless, Hawkins also took issue with the stigma she says gets placed on fishermen in regard to offshore wind. “Fishermen are worried about climate change,” she said, “and are painted otherwise.”
In a March 29 press release meant to respond to a same-day announcement from the Biden administration that it intends to boost offshore wind, RODA leveled criticism at what it perceived as fishermen being sidelined.
“The Biden administration’s disappointing fervor over [offshore wind] advancement continues an ineffective approach toward addressing climate change begun by previous administrations, without demonstrating any willingness to include fisheries, ecosystem science, or our coastal communities in climate solutions,” the release states.
In a statement on its website, Vineyard Wind embraced the Biden administration’s announcement. “Vineyard Wind fully supports the Biden administration’s ‘all of government’ strategy to turn the potential of the offshore wind industry into reality,” Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Pedersen said in the statement. “By taking this approach, we can move quickly toward the goal of unlocking a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a new industry with good-paying American jobs while also achieving significant reductions in carbon emissions.”
Hawkins isn’t so bullish. As Vineyard Wind 1 nears approval, Hawkins said she fears it will become a flawed procedural template, something reviewed as a project that will be used as a policy model for all American offshore wind projects. Hawkins described the review process for Vineyard Wind 1 as “murky” and “damaging,” and underdeveloped for widespread use. RODA’s raising its voice now, she described as a “final shot before the project gets approved.”
Hawkins said a fishing community petition that is included with the release asks BOEM and
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to treat fishermen “as partners, not obstacles.”
The petition states, “We stand willing to work with the administration to use our knowledge about ocean ecosystems to create innovative, effective solutions for climate and environmental change. There are opportunities for mutual wins; however, OSW is an ocean use that directly conflicts with fishing, and imposes significant impacts to marine habitats, biodiversity, and physical oceanography. Far more transparency and inclusion must occur when evaluating if OSW is a good use of federal waters.”
The petition goes on to call for a “holistic” national strategy for offshore wind farms “based on cost-benefit analyses, alternative ways to address carbon emissions, food productivity, and ocean health.”
Offshore wind farms are in various stages of consideration and development up down the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards. They are geared to produce energy without the use of fossil fuels, which are the primary drivers of increasing temperatures on the planet. On Monday, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said climate change will impact everyone.
“For generations, we’ve put off the transition to clean energy, and now we’re facing a climate crisis,” she said. “It’s a crisis that doesn’t discriminate — every community is facing more extreme weather and the costs associated with that. But not every community has the resources to rebuild, or even get up and relocate when a climate event happens in their backyards. The climate crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families. As our country faces the interlocking challenges of a global pandemic, economic downturn, racial injustice, and the climate crisis — we must transition to a brighter future for everyone.”
Updated to correct the number of wind turbines planned for Vineyard Wind 1.