MOST OF THE INITIAL wind farms off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard plan to bring their electricity ashore on Cape Cod, but some residents are starting to ask why.
“There are better sites,” said Dave Buzanoski, president of the Falmouth Heights-Maravista Neighborhood Association, on The Codcast. “This power is needed basically on the mainland and there is no reason for it to come via Cape Cod.”
Susanne Conley, who is spearheading opposition to a transmission line proposed to come ashore at Dowses Beach in Osterville, said transmission lines should be feeding into the regional power grid either where the electricity is needed or where existing on-shore transmission capacity is available. The lines shouldn’t be coming into tiny villages on Cape Cod, she said. “If you need a [blood] transfusion, you don’t put it in the capillaries of your finger,” she added.
Yet the Cape is the place for offshore wind transmission lines — at least initially. Vineyard Wind, which is expected to begin producing electricity later this year, is sending its electricity via transmission lines to a landing spot at Covell’s Beach in Barnstable. Commonwealth Wind is looking to send power from its proposed wind farms to Craigville Beach and to Dowses Beach in Barnstable. And SouthCoast Wind is eyeing transmission lines first to Brayton Point in Somerset and later to Falmouth.
The Cape is the preferred landing spot for the transmission lines for financial and environmental reasons. The Cape is close to the wind farm area off of Martha’s Vineyard, which allows use of a less expensive type of transmission line, and having the transmission lines follow the same general path to a specific area of the Cape reduces their ocean footprint. Onshore, the electric grid infrastructure on the Cape has been beefed up in recent years, allowing for a handful of offshore wind projects to tap in. After those projects are completed, industry officials say, the needed upgrades become too expensive.
But Conley and Buzanoski say state officials should rethink the every-man-for-himself approach to wind farm development, which allows each project to build its own transmission line. Rather than disrupting tiny villages on Cape Cod, they say, it makes more sense to push for more coordination among wind farms on transmission. One option would be to collect electricity at sea from many wind farms and then deliver the power by long-distance transmission lines directly to where it is needed.
Buzanoski, for example, applauds SouthCoast for pursuing a transmission line to Brayton Point in Somerset, the site of an old coal-fired power plant that still has an interconnection with the regional power grid. There is a lot of talk at the state and federal level about similar efforts, but the cost and technology hurdles are significant.
In a statement, Avangrid, the company behind wind farms targeting Craigville Beach and Dowses Beach for transmission line connections, said joint connection efforts among wind farm developers may make sense but only for future projects. “New shared transmission is likely a decade away and waiting for that potential opportunity would prevent Massachusetts from meeting its climate targets,” the company said.
The company also noted the benefits Barnstable is receiving for negotiating its host community agreements with wind farm developers. The municipality will collect about $50 million over 25 years from just two of the projects, according to press reports. The projects are also helping the town to finance new water and sewer infrastructure, a high priority for efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution on the Cape.
The work at Covell’s Beach is already completed, and judging from Google Maps it looks as if all traces of the construction have disappeared. “That’s something the developers tout, that they’ll be here three years and once they’re gone we’ll never know they were here,” Conley said. “What they’ve left behind is 800 megawatts of electricity running under that particular beach. For a comparison, the two cables that feed Nantucket Island together total 71 megawatts and max usage is usually about 58 megawatts. This is a whole different kettle of fish, so to speak.”
Buzanoski also suggests the transmission lines pose a threat to the public. “From a young age we’ve been taught not to stick our fingers in a socket, not to pick up a live wire, but it’s now OK to run 350,000 volts under our front yards,” he said. “There’s certainly a stigma associated with that that I can’t imagine anyone would willfully agree to.”
In its statement, Avangrid said there should be no health impacts from the power lines. “Residents of Barnstable should not be worried about the electricity under their feet. The cables will be tunneled deep under the three beaches and otherwise under pavement. Buried electric cables are inherently safer than above ground,” the statement said.
Buzanoski said he and other residents on the Cape are not opposed to wind-generated clean energy. What they are focused on is preserving the beaches in their small communities and not sacrificing them just because it will take longer and maybe cost more to pursue a different alternative.
“Let’s slow this down. Let’s do this right,” said Conley, who ticks off the many attractions of Dowses Beach. “It’s just a beautiful Cape Cod treasure.”