Fishermen ask for shipping highways through wind farms

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A fishermen’s group is pressing federal regulators to carve 4-mile-wide shipping lanes into wind lease areas off New England.

The wind leasing areas — waters vetted for potential development and leased to companies by the Interior Department — lie in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass., spanning 70 miles in width in some areas.

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA) penned a letter dated Friday to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Coast Guard and NOAA Fisheries asking them to analyze six ocean highways, each 4 nautical miles wide, that would intersect the wind energy lease areas.

The letter revives a dormant argument between fishermen and wind developers ahead of a federal analysis of how fisheries will be affected by new turbines (Climatewire, Nov. 19, 2019).

RODA argues that the proposed spacing for potential offshore wind projects — turbines would be separated by 1 nautical mile — fails to address fishermen’s concerns about radar interference, viable fishing and safe passage through the lease areas.

“If we can’t fish within the area, we at least have to get to our other fishing routes,” said Annie Hawkins, executive director of RODA.

The five developers currently holding adjacent New England leases in the areas today rebuffed RODA’s underlying arguments for new fishing lanes.

Equinor ASA, Mayflower Wind Energy LLC, Ørsted A/S, Eversource Energy and Vineyard Wind LLC stated that the current 1-nautical-mile distance proposed between turbines in a uniform layout across the wind lease areas is already a compromise based on stakeholder input on safety, movement and fishing access.

The companies proposed the coordinated approach in November in a bid to appease fishermen’s protests.

“The proposed 1×1 nm array layout will significantly reduce the amount of clean energy that can be delivered to New England and New York,” the developers wrote in a joint statement. “Including even more and even wider transit lanes would unnecessarily decrease the amount of clean offshore wind energy available to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change and to serve the needs of electricity customers in New York and New England.”

RODA had deferred comment on the proposed layout in November until after the Coast Guard had completed a safety study, but that study has yet to be published.

The offshore wind industry is also awaiting an analysis from BOEM on the cumulative impact to fisheries from the burgeoning offshore wind industry.

BOEM, which stalled final permitting on the Vineyard Wind project off Martha’s Vineyard to conduct the cumulative study, has promised an early 2020 release.

Hawkins said RODA hoped BOEM would take transit lanes into account as it worked on its analysis.