Almost 20 years ago, the construction of offshore wind farms seemed imminent off New England. Energy entrepreneurs were proselytizing about the lower electric rates and sustainable advantages of wind power, which was growing exponentially in Europe and the United Kingdom. For example, proponents of the Cape Wind project said it was time for the United States to move toward sustainable energy production by building the first wind-energy array in U.S. waters.
However, locals didn’t buy into the idea of surrendering open ocean vistas. Many worried about negative consequences to birds and other wildlife from the nearly 400-foot towers and spinning rotor blades. Final permits were not granted, and litigation went against the developer, Energy Management Inc. — which pulled the plug on the proposed $2.8 billion project in 2017 and surrendered its right to offshore leases. The Cape Wind project was dead.
Around the same time, a much smaller project, Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island, became the first commercial offshore wind project to go online in U.S. waters. Its five 600-foot towers produce enough power for 17,000 homes — and reportedly lowered carbon emissions from now-retired diesel generators by 40,000 tons annually.
As governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo embraced such projects and set a goal for the state to meet all of its electricity demand with renewables by 2030. In May, now serving as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, she helped the Biden administration celebrate the proposed Vineyard Wind 1 project off Massachusetts — expected to become the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind project — receiving a go-ahead Record of Decision from the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
“I’ve always believed that fighting climate change is not only good for the environment, but good for the economy,” Raimondo said at the press conference for the project, which is expected to generate 3,600 new jobs as part of the wind-power industry’s projected addition of 80,000 jobs in the next decade.
Several other projects are waiting in the wings to be developed off Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to name a few, and Vineyard Wind 1 could serve as a model for what boaters can expect to see offshore.
The winds of change have swayed popular opinion: Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker congratulated the Vineyard Wind project and stated, “Massachusetts should be proud that this decision launches the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind project here on the Commonwealth’s shores.” Baker is clearly not a climate-change denier and has stated that he wants to see the Bay State on a path to net-zero emissions. The Vineyard Wind 1 project will have 62 wind turbines spaced 1 nautical mile apart, delivering a total capacity of 800 megawatts to an estimated 400,000 Massachusetts homes and businesses, and reducing annual carbon emissions by 1.6 metric tons. The Coast Guard has approved the tower configuration for transit, fishing and boating safety.
Each tower will be a GE Haliade-X, the most powerful turbine available today, producing 13 megawatts. By comparison, the entire Block Island Wind Farm produces 30 megawatts with five turbines.
In other words, the development underway now is the vision from two decades ago becoming a reality.
The project’s potential economic impact is immense: An estimated 3,600 new jobs will result, and the new wind-power industry could yield 80,000 jobs during the next decade. President Biden has stated that much of the workforce will be union.
Fishing and Boating Concerns
Vineyard Wind 1 is planned about 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, an area frequented by commercial fishermen, charter captains and recreational anglers for species such as marlin, tuna, shark and other big-game pelagics; bottom fish such as summer fluke, flounder and black sea bass; food fish such lobster and scallops; and baitfish such as whiting (silver hake) and Atlantic longfin squid. The offshore area is not a pathway for migratory striped bass, bluefish and other common New England recreational inshore species, according to research.
Such studies on behalf of Vineyard Wind (which include bottom-trawl, ventless-trap and benthic drop-camera surveys) are ongoing by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology, working with groups such as the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and others. Vineyard Wind is striving to be a good marine neighbor, weighing the concerns expressed about the project by commercial and recreational anglers and boaters. The company has stated that its main research objective is “to detect impacts of the proposed wind farm on fishery resources.”
Research will continue after the wind farm is erected to compare before and after conditions in the offshore fishery. Anglers and boaters are invited to offer input as Vineyard Wind shares the data for current and future regional offshore wind development.
However, there are concerns about the meaningfulness of some studies. According to National Fisherman magazine, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessels conducting science surveys cannot operate closer that 1 nautical mile from wind installations; similarly, NOAA aircraft used in surveys and whale monitoring will be subject to flying-height restrictions near planned wind turbines standing more than 800 feet above sea level, as those in the Vineyard Wind development will be. National Fisherman quotes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as saying, “While Vineyard Wind will have beneficial impacts to the local economy, it is anticipated that there will be negative economic impacts to commercial fisheries.” In fact, some commercial fishermen have said they will not fish in, or will completely abandon, the Vineyard Wind impact area due to navigation difficulties.
Much of the infrastructure playbook created for Vineyard Wind may apply to offshore-wind projects elsewhere. For example, William Cotta, offshore wind supply chain director for Rhode Island Commerce, told Soundings Trade Only that harbor safety committees will form to ensure that all concerned parties, including recreational and commercial fishermen and boaters, have a voice in discussions. Variations on Vineyard Wind’s harbor-safety model may be adopted at any harbor or port with a proximate offshore-wind project.
“That kind of cooperation is great because it puts all the different players and all the different industries really on equal footing where recreational fishermen or recreational boaters are going to be represented by one voice, but offshore wind developers also have one voice,” Cotta says.
An online seminar in June organized by Vineyard Wind’s fisheries-liaison team and the School for Marine Science and Technology updated fishermen and the general public on fisheries-survey findings. (The reports are online at vineyardwind.com/fisheries-science.)
One fisherman said, “It’s excellent to see this compilation of data because it creates a baseline that you’re discussing, so we can monitor and understand the impacts in the future. Kudos — it’s great to see.” Another commercial fisherman thanked the scientists present for their work and the overall Vineyard Wind research process for “building trust and transparency.” n