A GROUP REPRESENTING New England fishing interests on Tuesday called for special travel lanes through offshore wind farms proposed off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, putting the fishermen at odds with wind farm developers who want to retain as much space as possible for their turbines.
The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance called for the creation of six travel lanes, each one four nautical miles in width, through the entire lease area off the coast of the two states. The offshore wind developers in November had proposed no special travel lanes, choosing instead to let fishermen navigate through turbines set one nautical mile apart traveling north and south and seven-tenths of a nautical mile going diagonally.
Federal regulators, who had hoped the two sides would find some common ground on their own, will now have to decide the best approach.
Annie Hawkins, executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, criticized federal regulators for leaving the issue of safe navigation through the wind farms to negotiations between fishermen and wind farm developers outside the regulatory process. She said it was disappointing that such an important safety issue is still being talked about so late in the regulatory process.
“Only now are we talking about what would be sufficient travel lanes,” she said in a telephone interview.
Federal regulators put the initial $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind project on hold in August amid concerns that its layout could be different from other projects coming along in the development pipeline and create problems for fishermen and others navigating the area.
To address concerns raised by federal regulators, Vineyard Wind and the four other developers with leases offshore agreed to a standard configuration for their wind farms. Vineyard Wind had proposed a wind farm with 84 turbines arranged on a northwest-southwest orientation, with the turbines spaced nearly nine-tenths of a nautical mile apart. The five developers in November agreed to a uniform east-west orientation, with the turbines a minimum of one nautical mile apart.
The six travel lanes proposed by the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance will eat up space in the wind farm area, reducing how many wind turbines can be installed there. The five developers – Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind, Ørsted/Eversource, and Equinor – said the compromise proposal they released in November significantly reduced the amount of energy they could produce. “Including even more and even wider transit lanes would unnecessarily decrease the amount of clean offshore wind energy available to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change and to serve the needs of electricity customers in New York and New England,” the companies said in a joint statement.
Hawkins, however, said the travel lanes were drawn in a way that would not disrupt wind farms that have already negotiated power purchase agreements for their electricity. She said travel lanes would only impact future wind farms.
When its project was put on hold initially last summer, Vineyard Wind said it needed quick action by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to avoid having to cancel the project. The developer subsequently backed off that stance, and it’s unclear now how quickly the federal regulatory process will be concluded.
In its January 3 letter to federal officials with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the US Coast Guard, and NOAA Fisheries, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance urged the regulators to take into account its proposal for travel lanes as they review the impact of the wind farms on the area. The alliance urged the Coast Guard to conduct its review “in a manner that recognizes the paramount right of navigation over all other uses in the relevant areas as required by law.”