Library from Rhode Island
The first utility-scale wind farm proposed for U.S. waters will face a crucial vote in Rhode Island as fishermen’s groups threaten to block the project. Today, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) is expected to decide whether to certify the 84-turbine Vineyard Wind proposal as consistent with state policies that govern the shared use of the ocean.
Two weeks ago the Fishermen’s Advisory Board (FAB) received a financial compensation offer from Vineyard Wind for the disruption the 84-turbine facility would have on commercial fishing grounds. With money from Vineyard Wind, the FAB hired an economist to study the offer and an attorney to help with legal issues, and now both parties want more time to review and negotiate.
Cranston isn’t the only Rhode Island community concerned about the impacts of siting wind turbines close to neighborhoods. Some residents of Coventry have complained of shadow flicker and noise from the 10 414-foot-tall turbines in their rural village of Greene. They say the utility-scale facility isn’t consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and has dramatically changed the village’s long-established characteristics.
Dellinger, a lobsterman, had said in December that “the industry doesn’t want a mitigation strategy.” “The whole process needs to slow down,” he said. “We’re in such a rush.” Among the points of contention is Vineyard Wind’s planned layout. Commercial fishermen want an east-west grid pattern but Vineyard Wind currently has a northeast-to-southwest grid plan.
Fishermen and council staff tried to convince Vineyard Wind to widen spacing between its turbines and change their configuration to align with industry-standard fishing lanes in the area, but the company argued that its tight schedule for construction prevented such changes. With the sides deadlocked, talk turned to mitigation.
Less than three weeks before Rhode Island coastal regulators are set to vote on a key approval for its $2-billion offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind has yet to come forward with a compensation package for the state’s commercial fishermen who say that the layout of the company’s 84 turbines will block access to valuable Atlantic Ocean fishing grounds.
The recent record-breaking auction of development rights for offshore wind-energy installations off the coast of southern New England proves that developers are confident that obstacles to their construction and operation will likely be few. But after just two years of operation of the nation’s first offshore wind facility — the much-heralded Block Island Wind Farm — there is still a great deal unknown about their long-term environmental impact.
“I see five unobstructed, 519-foot turbines from any window along the back of my home and from every part of my entire backyard,” one resident said Monday night during a City Council meeting at City Hall.
Although the wind farm would be built in federal waters and supply power to Massachusetts, Rhode Island has the latitude to effectively veto it. By law, development in federal waters cannot interfere with a state’s coastal activities, such as fishing, and must comply with state regulations.
Rhode Island coastal regulators granted Vineyard Wind a stay in permitting proceedings on Tuesday, giving the New Bedford company another two months to reach agreement with fishermen who say they would lose access to valuable fishing grounds in the waters where 84 wind turbines would be installed.
At issue is the layout of the project. Fishermen want wide corridors, specifically a mile or wider oriented east to west. Current plans offer two 1-mile corridors, with only one running east to west. As an alternative, Vineyard Wind proposed using larger turbines with nearly 10 megawatts of capacity, thereby reducing the number of towers ...but pose risk to the project because they haven’t received design certification.
The Fishermen’s Advisory Board, which advises the Coastal Resources Management Council on fishing issues related to offshore wind, voted unanimously Monday to deny its support out of fear that the layout of the project’s 84 towering wind turbines in Rhode Island Sound would close off fishing grounds that are considered some of the most productive for the state’s commercial fleet.
Although its projects are helping to reduce energy costs for municipalities and other public entities, have won contracts through the state, and been embraced by people like Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena, they have not been universally welcomed. Some residents of Coventry in particular have complained of shadow flicker and noise and objected to the visual impact of the 414-foot-tall turbines in a largely rural part of that community.
Deepwater, which submitted its bid before the name change took effect, is proposing two options: a 100-megawatt project or a 350-megawatt alternative. Vineyard, too, has put forward a choice, between a 200-megawatt project and one of 350 megawatts.
In the summer, Aripotch patrols for squid and weakfish in the area where the 15 South Fork wind turbines and others wind projects are planned. He expects the wind facilities and undersea cables will shrink fishing grounds along the Eastern Seaboard. “If you put 2,000 wind turbines from the Nantucket Shoals to New York City, I’m losing 50 to 60 percent of my fishing grounds,” Aripotch said during a Nov. 8 public hearing at the Narragansett Community Center.
Danish energy business Orsted has entered into an agreement with the U.S.-based D.E. Shaw Group to buy a 100 percent equity interest in its offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind.
The most surprising result of the acoustic monitoring of the wind farm construction was the intensity of the vibrations felt in the seabed from the pile driving. “The impact on the animals on the seabed is potentially worse than for those in the water column,” Miller said. “It may have had an effect on nearby bottom-dwelling organisms like flounder and lobsters, which have a huge economic value in the state. But we’re still trying to understand what that effect may be.
At a recent joint meeting with CRMC’s Fishermen’s Advisory Board and Habitat Advisory Board, fishermen said the cables can harm fishing gear. They said the electrical voltage may cause sharks to bite the cables, while the voltage may slow fish and disrupt the food chain. The fishermen also wanted assurances that Deepwater Wind wouldn’t abandon the wind farms’ cables, towers, and foundations after they exceed their use in 20 years or so.
“This fall we plan on installing additional sleeving over another section of cable to protect it from potential damage from a stray anchor or other heavy object. We will be meeting with the Coastal Resources Management Council and Deepwater Wind [on Thursday, Aug. 9] to discuss the current situation and explore other options. We will keep the town and other officials updated accordingly.”
The sea2shore transmission cable, installed by National Grid as part of the Block Island Wind Farm project, can now be seen about 25 feet from Town Beach at low tide. ...Deepwater Wind and National Grid expressed that they are going to send a diver out for a visual confirmation immediately, and obtain a more detailed survey of the area, and are reaching out to their international contacts that might have experience with an exposed cable.”