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Vineyard Wind 800-MW Offshore Wind Farm Approved, Fishermen's Concerns Not Addressed

On May 11, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) within the Department of Interior released its final record of decision permitting construction and operation of Vineyard Wind, an offshore wind farm located in federal waters southeast of Martha’s Vineyard. The $2.8 billion project is a joint venture of the energy firms Avangrid Renewables, part of Iberdrola, and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), a membership-based coalition of fishing industry associations and fishing companies, immediately denounced the decision.

“For the past decade, fishermen have participated in offshore wind meetings whenever they were asked and produced reasonable requests only to be met with silence,” said Annie Hawkins, RODA executive director. “From this silence now emerges unilateral action and a clear indication that those in authority care more about multinational businesses and energy politics than our environment, domestic food sources, or U.S. citizens.,” RODA wrote.

Construction on Vineyard Wind is expected to begin this summer. The project is permitted up to 84 turbines which could generate 800 megawatts of electricity, vastly more than is currently produced by the Block Island Wind Farm three miles off Block Island. The electricity will travel via cables buried six feet below the ocean floor to Cape Cod, where the cables will connect to a substation and feed into the New England grid. The company said that it expects to begin delivering wind-powered electricity in 2023.

One of the five floating wind turbines in the Kincardine Offshore Windfarm being towed to the site 15 km southeast of Aberdeen, Scotland. The turbine is 105 meters or 345 feet in height. By comparsison, the Vineyard Wind turbines will be 260 meters or 853 feet tall. Image courtesy: Boskalis

Vineyard Wind developers have agreed to pay $37.7 million to commercial fishermen in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to compensate them for future losses. But many commercial fishermen in New England remain staunchly opposed to the wind turbines, proposed to be built on traditional fishing grounds for scallops, squid, sea bass and other fish. Fishermen say that it will be dangerous to navigate among turbines, particularly in poor weather and because of interference with radar navigation systems.

While projects such as Vineyard Wind are touted as providing well-paying jobs, many economists are skeptical. Offshore wind energy development is far advanced in Europe and it is European companies that are vying to construct similar projects in the U.S. The equipment and technology for creation of large-scale offshore wind farms and the manufacturing jobs associated with them are mostly located in Europe.

Vineyard Wind’s approval reflects the Biden administration’s emphasis on increased renewable energy production in the country, specifically from offshore wind energy. The Administration has announced that it intends to fast-track permits for other projects off the Atlantic Coast. In addition, it plans to provide $3 billion in federal loan guarantees for offshore wind projects and invest in upgrades to ports across the United States to support wind turbine construction.

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