Wind farm developers agree to endangered whale protections

Source: Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2019

Developers of a large-scale offshore wind farm today promised to take steps to protect endangered right whales when they install 84 turbines off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Environmental groups said they had reached an “unprecedented agreement” with Vineyard Wind, the company that wants to provide enough power for more than 400,000 homes.

Under the agreement, Vineyard Wind will curtail turbine construction in the winter and early spring when the North Atlantic right whales might be in the area. The company also agreed to new vessel speed limits and to dampen construction noise that could hurt the whales’ ability to communicate and find food.

In addition, Vineyard Wind said it would spend $3 million on research to develop new technologies aimed at providing more safeguards for marine mammals.

The company reached the agreement with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation and the Conservation Law Foundation. They said they hope the agreement will provide “an important template” for other offshore wind projects in the future.

“Scaling up offshore wind in wildlife-friendly ways is essential to confronting the climate crisis,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “By ensuring that offshore wind power is responsibly built and operated, this model agreement is a win-win for conserving wildlife and creating well-paying jobs.”

Erich Stephens, chief development officer of Vineyard Wind, said the company “has strived to work with all stakeholders to proactively resolve potential issues and design the best project possible.”

“It has been especially gratifying to work with these leading environmental groups in developing enhanced protections for right whales during all phases of what will be the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind project,” Stephens said.

The whales are listed as an endangered species, with a population of slightly more than 400 remaining. According to NOAA, humans have posed the largest threat, with the whales often getting tangled in fishing gear or colliding with vessels.