Fishermen, developers still disagree on the offshore wind farm
PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island coastal regulators will wait another week before making a decision on a key approval for a proposed large offshore wind farm in ocean waters southeast of Block Island.
The state’s Coastal Resource Management Board was due to decide on Tuesday whether to certify that the South Fork wind farm was in compliance with Rhode Island coastal policies, but after five hours of testimony from developers Orsted and Eversource in favor of the project of 132 megawatts and affected fishermen. Regarding its impacts, the meeting continued until June 2. At that time, council will hear public comments and vote.
The problem is a set recommended by board staff to minimize potential negative impacts of the wind farm on the state’s fishing industry and marine habitat in the Rhode Island Strait project area. the proposed package includes reducing the number of wind turbines from 15 to 12 and creating a fund of $ 12 million, to be paid out over 30 years, to compensate fishermen for any financial loss.
Although council staff recommended conditional certification of the project if the developers accepted the package – which they did – a fishermen’s council that advises the council on offshore wind development has spoken out against the mitigation proposal. A lawyer for the Fishermen’s Advisory Council describes the final staff recommendation, which was updated after developer input, as a ‘behind-the-scenes deal’ this excluded the participation of the council.
Jeffrey Willis, executive director of the CRMC, challenged this qualification. He said a change made over the weekend to the proposed package – allowing 12 turbines, instead of the 11 initially requested by council staff and presented verbally to the board – only came after Orsted and Eversource informed staff that they had already signed a contract to use 11 megawatt turbines.
With turbines of this size, developers are expected to install a total of 12 to meet the planned capacity of 132 megawatts of the wind farm that would send electricity to Long Island.
“There have been absolutely no behind-the-scenes transactions here,” Willis said.
CRMC deputy director James Boyd described measures taken by Orsted and Eversource to deal with the impact of the wind farm, including a previous agreement on space turbines one nautical mile apart in a grid to facilitate movements of fishing boats within the framework of the project. But despite these efforts, the wind farm would still have adverse effects on the environment and the fishing industry, he said, requiring the mitigation package.
He acknowledged the opposition of fishermen to the agreement.
“I’m really sorry that we couldn’t find an acceptable solution here, like we did with the Vineyard Wind case,” Boyd said, referring to the first large offshore wind farm to receive board certification. coastal, in 2019.
Fishermen’s council members and their representatives criticized the mitigation program as incomplete, saying it did not cover all the potential losses that could range from damage to fish populations, from driving on stilts to fishing. increased insurance costs due to navigation difficulties.
“Let me be clear that we’re not whole,” said Chris Brown, board member, president of Seafood Harvesters of America, an industry group.
The board is prepared to accept the deal if the $ 12 million fund is set up through an upfront payment, rather than being paid over time. But developer representatives have not said where they stand on this possibility.
In their presentation, they said the wind farm would avoid the project site’s most critical habitat around an area called Cox Ledge, which is known to attract many species of fish, including cod. They also said the wind farm will occupy less than one percent of the total 13,700 acres that developers lease to the federal government for South Fork.
And scientists hired by the developers estimate the fishing losses caused by the wind farm to be minimal, at just over $ 1 million over the life of the project.
“We have taken the lead and designed a project that will coexist with other uses of the marine environment, including fishing,” said Melanie Gearon, licensing manager for the wind farm.
However, it was not only the fishermen who expressed reservations about the procedure. In a letter to the board submitted prior to the meetingState Senator Dawn Euer said it would not be a service to go ahead with the certification of the wind farm without completing a collection and review of baseline fisheries data and a full impact assessment. of the project. She referred to a three-year study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on fisheries in offshore wind areas.
“Without understanding the magnitude of the impacts of large-scale wind farms placed in sensitive habitats, we risk the potential collapse of entire food chains and ecosystems,” wrote Euer, chairman of the Senate Environment Committee and of agriculture. “I’m afraid we’re currently in a shoot first, aim later scenario.”