New wind strategy advanced to protect right whales

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A Vineyard Wind turbine —Courtesy of Avangrid

The federal government announced a new strategy aimed at protecting the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale while the development of offshore wind ramps up. 

The 78-page strategy from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and NOAA Fisheries, released Thursday, Jan. 25, lays out ways to continue evaluating and mitigating the potential effects on the whales and their habitat.

North Atlantic right whales are an endangered species, with an estimated 360 individuals remaining, a population that has been reported to be on the decline. That decline has been felt locally, as a juvenile right whale was found dead in Edgartown on Monday. 

While NOAA reports that entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes are the leading cause of death for the whales, the agency says that ocean noise is also a threat to the species, and sources can include energy exploration and development.

Meanwhile, the Biden-Harris administration has a goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. For context, Vineyard Wind is expected to produce 800 megawatts, or 0.8 gigawatts.

NOAA officials say they developed the strategy using feedback from the public and Native American tribes, alongside the “best available scientific information.” A representative from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) was not immediately available for comment.

The strategy is intended to increase collaboration among wind developers and other agencies for mitigating risks to right whales and research.

One of the immediate mitigation efforts includes avoiding leasing new wind developments in right whale habitat. Additionally, guidance would be provided to developers on limiting the amount of noise made during offshore wind activities. Other aspects of the strategy include vessel strike reduction measures, and species observation methods. 

However, there are still turbines planned to be built in areas at or near where right whales visit or migrate through. Last March, 24 right whales were spotted south of the Vineyard, near where several offshore wind projects are leased. “Slow zones” were enacted in these areas to prevent strikes between vessels and the animals. When asked about the existing lease areas, BOEM spokesperson Sara McPherson referred the Times to three documents regarding the topic. One document included the new strategy; the other two were a BOEM report titled “A Wind Energy Area Siting Analysis for the Central Atlantic Call Area” and the draft environmental impact statement for Mayflower Wind, now called SouthCoast Wind. The documents had segments on considerations made for right whales, such as conservation status, habitat, and mitigating potential impacts to the endangered species. 

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries also received millions of dollars in federal funding for right whale conservation efforts, such as monitoring the whales and researching commercial fishing gear. 

Avangrid, the company that owns half the Vineyard Wind project being built in waters south of the Island, also announced in a recent press release that the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative for Offshore Wind (RWSC) — which it helped create — issued a plan titled “Integrated Science Plan for Offshore Wind, Wildlife, and Habitat in U.S. Atlantic Waters. The plan acts as a guide toward preserving marine mammals and ecosystems while advancing offshore wind power. A webinar about the plan will take place on Friday, Feb. 9, at 1 pm; the public can register at bit.ly/RWSC_WebinarRegistration

“This Science Plan provides the blueprint for the region’s future work,” Emily Shumchenia, director of RWSC, said in the release. “It’s also a call to action to collaborate on advancing our understanding of offshore wind and marine ecosystems.”

There are still some considerations regarding strategies for right whale protection. 

Charles (“Stormy”) Mayo, director of the Center for Coastal Studies right whale ecology program in Provincetown, hadn’t seen the strategy yet when he spoke with The Times, but he mentioned aspects that need to be taken into consideration for right whales. There are several problems that federal agencies and conservationists run into when trying to protect right whales. Despite the “voluminous” amount of research and available information about these extremely rare animals’ lives in the ocean, there are gaps. Additionally, Mayo said, the ocean makes for a difficult environment for study. 

“They’re still somewhat of a mystery,” Mayo said, although the regions south of the Island are more heavily studied than other locations. 

The strategy also has plans to be “adaptive,” based on data collected. Mayo underscored the importance of being flexible to protect right whales. He says their population distribution and areas of habitat seem to be changing in relation to a changing climate. “We take the best information we can get, and do the best we can,” he said. 

When asked about the pushback offshore wind projects receive because of their alleged threats to right whales, Mayo emphasized the need for “good science” to lead in protecting marine ecosystems. Mayo said while there is no direct evidence that offshore wind development is killing whales, the potential impacts and concerns should be investigated. He said that the projects are not located in waters with a large number of whales, but enough whales travel through to make the research necessary.

Mayo continued that some people are getting their information from social media sites, like Facebook, based on assumptions, and often inaccurate. Even though there are gaps in the knowledge, if something turns out to be a problem, answers need to be acquired in a scientific manner. “It’s really important to depend on science,” Mayo said. 

19 COMMENTS

  1. Had they consulted the whales in the first place, they would know those wind turbines in the Vineyard Sound is a very bad and misguided idea.

    • Martha, can we agree that the issue of wind energy generation is multi-faceted? When we generate power with wind we are saving acid rain from falling on forest, cities, and people. One of the issues with burning fossil fuels for electricity is that it causes the earth to warm. Now let’s talk about the whales and other animals in the ocean: There are NO MORE lobsters along the Connecticut shoreline (probably other places too). Wind and solar energy have the potential to save many species from extinction. We (as a society on the planet) have to do something about the loss of these species. We are the living stewards of the earth and we have to protect it. You. Me. We should be doing all that we can individually and collectively to protect this ecosystem hurtling through space. We can put solar panels on EVERY roof! We can drive electric cars. (By the way, electric cars have 20 parts to gasoline cars every 100 parts–that means that not only do they use less energy, but they take less energy to build. Fewer parts means less maintenance. Sorry car shops, we won’t be coming there as often for maintenance!)
      We need the whales! We also need lowly lobsters.

      • You may want to look into what it entails to provide the materials used to make the batteries used to propel electric vehicles. It will shock you.
        My boss purchased a Tesla and was thrilled for about a day. Regret set in real quick. He has a hefty payment on the vehicle, his electric bill has increased significantly, and he has had numerous inconvenient recalls. Charging the unit, other than at home, has also been challenging and time consuming. Personally, I can not afford an EV nor do I want one. More importantly, do the research on the extraction of the products needed to make the batteries. Just keeping it real.

        • More importantly, do the research on the extraction of the products needed to make internal combustion engines and their emissions. Just keeping it real.

        • Richard, obviously I wouldn’t know what your boss pays for electricity to charge his electric car. However, I do know how much it costs to install a solar system for a modest home. If you do a little of the work yourself (such as building wooden racks for the solar panels—consider parking your car underneath), purchase the panels, UL listed batteries, inverters, and backup generator (eBay has excellent options for some components, Lowe’s has other competitive options) and then hire a local electrician to hook up the system for you—all of that should only cost about $13,000. For everything. That system properly maintained should last about 25 years before it needs an update (NOT replaced!). This minor update should only cost about $3,000.
          Average miles driven per year is 13,500. An average mid-size car gets 27 mpg. Gas at the local Shell station is hovering around $4 per gallon. 13500 divided by 27 gives us 500 gallons of gas used. Multiplied by $4 gives us $2000 of gas per year. If you pay $13k for a solar system (that would do a whole lot more than charge one car!) and only use it to charge the car, the return on investment is 6.5 years. After 6.5 years the electric car operates for nearly free. Also, electric cars have fewer parts and very little maintenance. If you calculate in reduced maintenance costs, that electric car pays for itself much faster!

  2. Had they consulted the whales in the first place, they would know those oil drilling rigs, oil production platforms, oil pipelines, oil tankers, fishing gear and High Speed Ferries are a very bad and misguided idea.

  3. Why doesn’t the State simply order the one operating tower dismantled, remove any remaining towers, and call it a day. Also, tear down that monstrosity of a building on Beach Road and put in appropriate-sized Island-scale businesses. Then there would be no remnants of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Iberdrola left behind by these European interlopers.

    • Christopher, are you being sarcastic? Surely you don’t want the reverse. That US companies overseas are seen as interlopers and kicked out of Europe and other countries?

      • If Europeans want what we produce, by all means we should make it available to them. However, how large do you sincerely believe the demand of Islanders for a wind farm off our shoreline ever was?

    • Christopher–Thanks for you questions and comment.
      There is a simple answer to all your
      questions;
      While “the state” has its share of
      issues, it is not completely overrun with complete idiots.
      But to be more specific—
      Everything you mention is privately owned
      by Avangrid– a United states based company
      based in Oregon.
      We still have the right to private property in this country.
      That company has an exemplary record of compliance
      with environmental laws.
      The towers are in in federal waters as a result of
      federal permits and are in compliance with
      all current environmental regulations.
      They underwent years of thorough evaluation
      examination and public comment
      in that process.
      This U.S based project will provide thousands
      if not tens of thousands of good paying local and
      regional jobs while providing clean, reliable energy to
      hundreds of thousands of homes on the New England
      power grid. —
      Oh what the hey– MAYBE — in my opinion
      MIllions of jobs– please forgive me
      if you THINK I am exaggerating– everyone else seems
      to do it, why not me ?
      And likely cheaper to boot.
      That building is likely the most well built structure
      on the Vineyard, and no where near the size of
      many single family homes or other businesses
      on the island. After a cat 5 hurricane, it will
      likely be the only building standing down there,
      and COULD be used as an emergency shelter.
      Both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and
      the town of Tisbury will receive significant tax
      revenue from this project.
      Feel free to ask more questions– I will try my best
      to answer them for you .

      • While I may not agree with your sentiment, I have to acknowledge the truth of your facts and the potential benefits of the project.

      • Once again you have your facts wrong. Vineyard Wind is partially owned by Avangrid which is headquartered in Oregon but it is a subsidiary of the Spanish power company Iberdola. The other half of the ownership is held by the Dutch company Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

        • John– I am quite aware of that.
          I have yet to see you criticize and/or
          correct the many people here who
          continually clam V.W that it is
          based in in Copenhagen.
          How about once in a while you correct
          those people for having their facts wrong ?
          Just a few comments up, Christopher
          mentions nothing about the 50%
          owned by Avangrid—(U.S. based )
          Once again, he had his facts wrong.
          Why didn’t you correct him?
          It seems one of the consistent arguments
          here is that this project is PARTIALLY owned
          by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.
          But you would never know it.
          And do you ever wonder why ?
          There is no company in the U.S capable
          of doing this.
          Look, if the opponents can say “foreign owned”
          I can say U.S owned. 50–50 —

  4. I remember when America was great, most farms had some kind of of a windmill.
    The Dutch have been proud of their windmills for centuries.
    It’s time to show some Vineyard Pride.
    Maybe a parade?
    Hit all the hot button issues.

Comments are closed.