RI official applauds wind farm layout announcement: Says Vineyard Wind agreeing to plan it rejected nearly 2 years ago. By Bruce Mohl – Nov 20, 2019
THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council applauded Vineyard Wind and four other companies for agreeing to a common layout for their New England offshore wind farms, but he said the configuration the firms are proposing is exactly what his agency pressed Vineyard Wind to adopt nearly two years ago.
Grover Fugate said the decision by the wind farm developers to go with a standard east-west orientation with each turbine one nautical mile apart settles a lot of concerns about how fishing, navigation, and search and rescue operations can coexist with the developing offshore wind industry. “I think it takes a lot of the issues off the table,” he said.
Getting issues off the table was a big priority for all the companies, as the industry is temporarily stalled while the Coast Guard and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management are trying to decide how Vineyard Wind’s first-in-the-nation proposal will mesh with other projects coming along in the development pipeline. While some fishing interests are still grumbling about this week’s turbine layout proposal, Fugate’s personal endorsement is a strong signal the initiative is likely to pass muster with both fishermen and federal regulators.
Still, Fugate can’t help but chuckle how Vineyard Wind came around to the council’s point of view. “The alignment that they’re doing is what we were trying to get Vineyard Wind to do two years ago,” Fugate said. At the time, Vineyard Wind had proposed 84 turbines arranged on a northwest-southeast orientation, with the turbines nearly nine-tenths of a nautical mile apart. The council, representing fishing interests, pressed for an east-west orientation with one nautical mile between the turbines. Vineyard Wind resisted, insisting it was on a tight schedule to take advantage of a federal tax credit and it had already spent $25 million taking core samples from the ocean floor at each of its proposed turbine locations.
“They said it would have killed the project if we delayed it,” he said.
In February, the council and its Fishermen’s Advisory Board grumbled about Vineyard Wind’s proposed layout but nevertheless gave their blessing after the company agreed to make $4.2 million in payments to commercial fishermen over 30 years and create a $12.5 million trust to cover additional costs. If the council and its advisory board had voted against the Vineyard Wind project and ended up being overruled on appeal, they could have ended up with nothing.
Now the council may get the wind farm layout it wanted plus the settlement money it negotiated earlier. (“Our lawyers are looking at it,” Fugate said.)
Fugate said the biggest advantage of the layout proposed by the five wind farm developers is its simplicity, allowing the east-west lanes to be used for fishing and the north-south lanes for navigation. He said the east-west lanes can alternate between fixed-gear fishing (lobster) and mobile-gear fishing (squid). Fugate said the layout would appear to satisfy most fishermen, but he acknowledged some still want additional two-mile navigation lanes cutting through the wind farm areas.
A big questionmark now is whether Vineyard Wind can build its wind farm even if it passes federal muster. Fugate said the company told the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council nearly two years ago that the project would go belly up if it was delayed. In mid-July, the company said the project would be at risk if it wasn’t approved by federal regulators in six weeks. In early August, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management put the wind farm on hold indefinitely, but Vineyard Wind insisted the “project remains viable and continues to move ahead.” The joint announcement on wind farm layout earlier this week suggests Vineyard Wind continues to believe the project is viable, even though its original timetable has been blown up.
A spokesman for Vineyard Wind declined to comment on the record. In a letter to the Coast Guard released on Tuesday, the five companies — Vineyard Wind, Eversource Energy, Mayflower Wind, Orsted North America, and Equinor Wind — laid out why the standard configuration serves all interests best. “The New England leaseholders are proude to be working together to present a collaborative solution that we believe accommodates all ocean users in the region,” they said.