What to do, and not do, when building a wind farm

Fri, 12/15/2017 - 8:45am

The need for greater communication and dissemination of information between an assortment of entities associated with an offshore wind energy project was one of the lessons learned from Deepwater Wind’s construction of the Block Island Wind Farm.

That’s what was surmised from a discussion among scientists, researchers, and offshore wind energy professionals at the inaugural Southern New England Offshore Wind Science Forum at the University of Rhode Island’s Bay Campus, held on Dec. 11 and 12. Lessons learned from Deepwater Wind’s construction process, and how they could be applied to benefit the offshore wind industry and its stakeholders, was the central topic at the event.

The forum, the brainchild of Grover Fugate, Executive Director of the Coastal Resources Management Council, was hosted by Jen McCann, Director of U.S. Coastal Programs at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography and the Coastal Resources Center, and sponsored by the CRMC, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Deepwater Wind.  

McCann said the point of the forum was to share what had been learned from the Block Island Wind Farm, while Fugate noted that Deepwater Wind “learned a lot of valuable lessons” that could be applied to future projects.  McCann and Fugate were instrumental in creating the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, a map of the ocean floor that was utilized to site the Block Island Wind Farm.  

Bill White, Senior Director, Offshore Wind Sector Development, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, said, “Learning from an offshore wind farm, like the (Block Island Wind Farm), is a great benefit.” He noted that what’s been learned can be applied to address stakeholder issues and concerns.

White provided the assemblage with a bit of news, stating that the $2.5 billion Cape Wind project would “not be moving forward.” White said that he thought Cape Wind was going to be the first offshore wind farm constructed in the U.S. The project was declared dead on Dec. 1, and Cape Wind has surrendered its 46 square-mile lease on Nantucket Sound.

“Cape Wind helped Massachusetts be where we are today,” said White. “It educated us” about the offshore wind energy business. “It was disappointing to see Cape Wind fail, but it paved the path for the future.”

With Cape Wind now defunct, Deepwater Wind’s process for constructing the Block Island Wind Farm has become the blueprint for the offshore wind energy business in the U.S. The wind farm was the centerpiece of the sharing of thoughts and ideas by the forum’s attendees.

Some of the scientists gave PowerPoint presentations, cited surveys, and analyses, ranging from acoustic studies and surveys of the Atlantic Ocean to Electromagnetic Field studies of the wind farm’s transmission cables. 

The scientists felt that further research, data, and evidence was necessary to better inform their conclusions.

Fishermen’s concerns

While most of the forum’s panelists seemed to support the wind energy business, members of the fishing industry voiced concerns and trepidation associated with the offshore wind energy industry. Dave Beutel, Aquaculture and Fisheries Coordinator for the CRMC, said that a “better handle on the science” was needed.

“We were initially terrorized,” commercial fisherman Chris Brown said about perceptions of the Block Island Wind Farm and the offshore wind energy business at the forum.

Brown spoke passionately about the concerns of the fishing industry regarding the offshore wind business occupying territory in the Atlantic Ocean where large-scale projects could potentially threaten the fishing business. Researchers who presented survey analysis at the forum noted that it’s not known how much of an impact construction of offshore projects might play in displacing, and/or jeopardizing marine life.

“We have to be concerned with the impact of scale,” said Brown, who has been working in commercial fishing for 40 years. “We are worried about being put out of business.”

Drew Carey, the principal scientist and managing partner at Inspire Environmental, said that the impact of the Block Island Wind Farm on fish and marine life is not yet known. Carey, who presented an analysis from a fish survey, did say that the wind farm’s construction activity did not seem to impact aquatic conditions.