Offshore wind companies team up to appease fishing industry

Source: By Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Five offshore wind developers released a joint plan this morning to coordinate turbine placement in the shallow waters off New England, in a bid to ease fishermen’s concerns and win over federal regulators.

Turbine siting has emerged as one of the key sticking points as offshore wind developers move to install steel towers in the ocean. Fishermen and other mariners have raised concerns about the orientation of the towers, as well as the distance between them.

The coordinated announcement reflects the growing recognition in the wind industry of the challenges of the federal permitting process. The Interior Department delayed the nation’s first major wind farm, Vineyard Wind, this summer amid mounting concerns from fishermen about its impact on their business. At an industry conference in Boston last month, the CEOs of the leading developers pledged to increase their coordination around federal permitting, which they identified as a shared challenge (Climatewire, Oct. 23).

Equinor ASA, Mayflower Wind, Ørsted A/S, Eversource Energy and Vineyard Wind hold five leases adjacent to one another in federal waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In a statement today, the group said all turbines across the area will be spaced 1 nautical mile apart and laid out in an east-west rows and north-south columns.

“This uniform layout is consistent with the requests of the region’s fisheries industry and other maritime users,” the companies said. “In addition, independent expert analysis provided to the USCG (U.S. Coast Guard) confirmed that this uniform layout would provide for robust navigational safety and search and rescue capability by providing hundreds of transit corridors to accommodate the region’s vessel traffic.”

The announcement represents something of a shift for Vineyard Wind, the first major proposed development. The 84-turbine project has come under intense criticism from fishermen for its layout. In the developer’s initial plan, turbines would have been spaced nine-tenths of a nautical mile apart and laid out in a northwest-southeast orientation.

Fishermen said the spacing presented safety concerns, worrying that they would be unable to maneuver their vessels amid the towers. Vineyard Wind settled on a northwest-southeast orientation to accommodate scalloping boats from New Bedford, Mass., which pass through the development area. But the layout angered squid fishermen from Rhode Island who trawl from east to west.

The developer, a partnership of Avangrid Inc. and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, had said reconfiguring the layout was financially inconceivable. But company representatives said it became possible to reimagine the orientation after Interior delayed its environmental impact statement, calling for a cumulative review of projects in the area (E&E News PM, Aug. 9).

In conjunction with the announcement, Vineyard Wind released a study of marine traffic in the development area. The analysis, conducted by W.F. Baird & Associates Ltd., concluded that the plan provided adequate spacing for boats to maneuver safely between turbines. It also found that most marine traffic bypassed or traveled along the perimeter of the wind development area.

It remains to be seen if the announcement will placate fishermen. The fishing industry is diverse, made up of different boats, using different gear to catch different fish. As Vineyard Wind’s case shows, an effort to appease one group can anger another.

The announcement comes in advance of a safety study by the Coast Guard. In a statement, a group representing fishermen said it would wait for that study before passing judgment on the plan.

“The spacing and orientation of wind turbines is not only determinative of fishery access, but more importantly a critical safety issue,” Annie Hawkins, the executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, wrote in an email. “Any project layout must be supported by evidence that the pattern minimizes risk to fishing and scientific survey vessel operators based on analyses of radar interference, insurance limitations, operability of search and rescue operations, and related factors.”