Turbine spacing proposal irks fishing industry

Say further accommodations are needed
Wed, 11/27/2019 - 6:45pm
Category: 

The commercial fishing industry is saying “not so fast” regarding the proposal by five offshore wind leaseholders to institute a one nautical mile of spacing between wind turbines for upcoming development in the New England region. The turbine spacing would be arranged in a north, south, east and west uniformed grid formation pattern.

The problem is: for safety purposes, the commercial fishing industry says it needs more spacing to conduct its business, noting that up to four nautical miles of spacing for the transit lanes in that region would be suitable.

The five New England offshore wind leaseholders, or developers, that made the proposal are Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Ørsted/Eversource, and Vineyard Wind. They issued a press release on Nov. 19 stating that:

“In response to feedback from key stakeholders, we have proposed to adopt a uniform turbine layout across our adjacent New England lease areas. This uniform layout has subsequently been proposed to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for its review. The proposed layout specifies that turbines will be spaced one nautical mile apart, arranged in east-west rows and north-south columns, with the rows and columns continuous across all New England lease areas.” 

Fred Mattera, Executive Director of the Commercial Fisheries Center of Rhode Island, and a retired fisherman, told The Times that, “This is going to be problematic for the fishing industry. It doesn’t resolve everything. Most disturbing,” he said, “is they want the transit lanes to be one mile wide.”

Transit lanes are corridors where vessels travel to get to their destinations. Mattera said that four miles in distance would satisfy the fishing industry’s needs for transiting safely through the wind energy lease areas.

The press release noted that “vessels exceeding 400 feet should transit around” the leaseholder area, such as tankers, cargo ships, and passenger or military vessels. Transiting around the area “may also provide a suitable option for much of the existing fishing vessel traffic.”

“What’s disturbing to me is: why did (the leaseholders) come out with this press release prior to the Coast Guard report in January?” said Mattera, noting that the Coast Guard would probably set at least a two-mile distance for transit lanes. He said there are large vessels, larger than 65 feet in length, that will be trying to navigate the transit lanes in inclement and challenging weather, and a “buffer” should be required.

Nicole Groll, a spokeswoman and Petty Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard, told The Times that the report Mattera is referring to is the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study. Per the Coast Guard’s website, “Port Access Route Studies (PARS) are done anytime the Coast Guard proposes routing changes, within the territorial seas, for any port.” 

“The Coast Guard is going to address transit lanes and layout” in the wind energy lease areas in its report, said Mattera. “The Coast Guard needs them, with appropriate spacing, for search and rescue” missions. The transit lanes “should have about a half-mile buffer” to accommodate vessels.

Mattera said he felt that the leaseholders’ press release was a “preemptive” salvo aimed at influencing the Coast Guard with its upcoming report. The leaseholders are urging the Coast Guard and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to support its proposal.

It is noted in the leaseholder’s letter that they “respectfully invite the Coast Guard to incorporate this proposal and the enclosed study in the ongoing Massachusetts and Rhode Island Port Access Route Study.”

“I have more faith in the Coast Guard” than in the five leaseholders, said Mattera. “I think the fishing industry is going to wait for the Coast Guard’s report” regarding the spacing issue. “Their study will be comprehensive” with input from a number of stakeholders.

Mattera said although the leaseholders did not satisfy all the needs of the fishing industry with their spacing proposal, their voice was being heard by the offshore wind industry. “As far as the grid layout goes they did listen to us,” he said. “It’s meeting the industry somewhere. We do get the mile spacing we need with the overall turbine grid.”

“I hate to be so cautious, but I think there are ulterior motives here,” said Mattera, noting that he wasn’t clear on what they might be. He reiterated that the proposal by the developers could be aimed at influencing the Coast Guard’s report.

“What’s also disturbing,” he said, “is that there is a disclaimer at the bottom of the proposal document.” Baird, the company that drafted the analysis for the proposal, noted that it “accepts no responsibility for damages, if any, suffered by any Third party as a result of decisions made or actions based on this document.”  

The relationship between the commercial fishing industry and offshore wind developers has been strained since installation of the Block Island Wind Farm cleared the way for developers to purchase wind energy sites in Atlantic waters in the New England region. Construction of the Block Island Wind Farm was completed in August of 2016.