Aquinnah is in negotiations with the developers of several offshore wind farms to help mitigate the impacts that hundreds of turbines will have on the view from the Aquinnah Cliffs.
The town has already reached agreements with some developers, but others, like Ørsted, could compensate the town with significant impact fees.
Aquinnah climate and energy committee member Bill Lake told town officials this week that the Natural Historic Preservation Act requires federal and federally authorized developers of projects that impact places within the National Register of Historic Places to provide some form of mitigation.
In Aquinnah’s case, funding could go to landmarks like the Gay Head Lighthouse and the Aquinnah Cliffs, the shops, and the Vanderhoop Homestead. In particular, the lighthouse has been eyed to be a major beneficiary of monetary compensation for needed repairs.
Lake and Aquinnah Circle Committee member Jim Pickman provided an update on the negotiations during the Aquinnah Select Board Tuesday evening meeting.
“What we’ve done is work with each of these wind farms to achieve mitigation,” Lake said. He said that mitigation can either come in the form of changing the configuration of the offshore wind farm to decrease its visual impact, or as financial compensation. Not all of the offshore wind farms will have the same level of impact, so each of them are being assessed for an appropriate mitigation level, he said.
There are potentially seven out of nine wind farms planned for waters south of the Vineyard that could provide some sort of mitigation.
SouthCoast Wind, formerly called Mayflower Wind, is not currently a part of the mitigation negotiations, because the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) determined it to be far enough away to not impact Aquinnah. Lake said Vineyard Northeast likely won’t be included for the same reason.
And the town has already received compensation from some entities. Lake said Vineyard Wind — the project furthest along off the Vineyard’s coast — is planning “millions of dollars” in clean energy projects on the Island, and is expected to create around 90 jobs locally. “It’s going to be a real economic benefit to the Island,” he said. “But for the town, it’s going to have a detriment.”
While Vineyard Wind provided $140,000 to the lighthouse, Pickman said the company did not provide compensation to other historic landmarks in town.
When Aquinnah Select Board chair Tom Murphy asked whether Vineyard Wind was not required to provide notification for other historic locations, Pickman said there was “some indication Aquinnah was not on the list.” “It was a very typical bureaucratic snafu,” Pickman said. The committee members said they were making sure this does not happen again.
Aside from Vineyard Wind, the town has reached an agreement with South Fork Wind, which is funding a $40,000 design to make the Cliffs ADA-accessible.
But negotiations are still in the works for the remaining projects, including potential maintenance funding from Sunrise Wind for the Aquinnah shops; New England Wind could cover possible maintenance costs for the lighthouse and its surrounding area; and Beacon Wind could cover the installation of new fencing around Lighthouse Park.
Revolution Wind would be the closest to Aquinnah, at only 12 miles away. Islanders expressed concerns over the project when BOEM presented Revolution Wind’s draft environmental impact statement last October, including members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Revolution Wind is the project where Aquinnah is pursuing the largest amount of mitigation, one aspect of which is the configuration of the wind turbines. Lake said they are reviewing around four possible configurations to find one that will minimize the turbines’ visibility from the Cliffs.
“We’ve seen simulations that show they will be quite visible, especially if it’s backlit,” Lake said.
Murphy pointed out that the spans of the Newport Bridge in Rhode Island were visible from the Cliffs at a distance. “This is substantially closer than that,” he said.
On top of the configurations, Lake said monetary compensation from Revolution Wind was also being pursued. This included $840,000, the amount needed to repair the glass and steel framing of the lighthouse.
“Revolution Wind has not agreed to that,” Lake said, adding that BOEM was contacted as a part of the “contentious” negotiations with Revolution Wind.
Danish multinational energy company Ørsted is developing Revolution Wind, Sunrise Wind, and South Fork Wind. Lake said the company’s “tactic” is offering nothing for Sunrise in place of the costlier Revolution Wind compensation request. A deal was not agreed to, but was not off the table yet, Pickman said.
However, there were a couple of commitments already secured from Revolution Wind. Pickman told The Times that Revolution Wind agreed to pay $500,000 for ADA accessibility improvements at the cliff area and $50,000 to weatherize the homestead.
Bay State Wind is the only project that has not reached the phase where it needs to enter into impact negotiations.
“When the discussion comes, maybe next year, that’ll be an important one,” Lake said, pointing out the large proposed lease area and its proximity to the Island. The project is 15 miles from the Island.
When board member Gary Haley asked how many wind turbines will make up these offshore wind farms, Lake said “multiple hundreds,” although he said it is difficult to give a precise estimation because the technology keeps changing and improving.
Board member Juli Vanderhoop pointed out that even more offshore wind farms are being planned around Block Island in Rhode Island and Long Island Sound in New York.
There were questions about the benefit of the actual energy generated for the Island from the projects. While there won’t be a direct cable connection between the Island and the offshore wind farms, Lake said the wind farms will be connected to the mainland grid. According to Lake, the offshore wind farms have contracts to sell power to certain states. “Three of four of them have contracts with Massachusetts, some with New York, some with Connecticut,” he said. “In a sense, it will benefit all of us because the Northeast region will have clean energy.”
As an example, Lake said Vineyard Wind will be connected to the state’s grid from Barnstable. “We’ll get some of those electrons when they come back to us from the grid,” he said.
Following the update, the board unanimously approved changing the name of Lighthouse Park to Len Butler Memorial Park. Len Butler was the chair of the Aquinnah Lighthouse advisory committee, who was instrumental in getting the lighthouse moved because of erosion, and was active in the offshore wind farm mitigation negotiations. The board also plans to develop a process to honor other stalwarts of the Aquinnah community in the town.