Fishing Industry Wants New Bedford Port Authority to Facilitate Offshore Wind
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Some go to sea to scoop tasty creatures from the deep, and others venture out to harness clean energy from the air above the waves.
As the state sets up an offshore wind industry, those in a much older line of work--fishing--feel a little left out of the conversation.
On Monday, a group of fishing industry officials--ranging from local vessel owners to shoreside proprietors like the president of the Atlantic Red Crab Company, and national outfits such as the American Scallop Association--wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker to complain about the current dynamic between them and their likely new neighbors and to suggest changes to make offshore wind more palatable.
"Three separate, developer-led outreach efforts have been launched, and all are stumbling to produce meaningful dialogue or move us closer to real solutions in areas ranging from navigation, access, cable routes, radar interference, and gear loss," "the coalition wrote". "Equally troubling, it has become clear that offshore wind developers are unwilling or unable to coordinate their interactions with commercial fishermen to tackle issues that cut across multiple project areas."
The fishing industry officials who wrote to Baker endorsed making the state's first offshore wind farm "as modest in size and scope as possible" so that its impacts can be studied, called for a possible delay in the selection of offshore wind partners, and they suggested tapping the New Bedford Port Authority to be the "central facilitator" for discussions between the wind-farmers and the fish harvesters.
Three project teams have bid to construct wind farms in the ocean south of Martha's Vineyard, as part of a roughly 1,600 megawatt procurement mandated by a 2016 energy diversification law. For comparison, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which is scheduled to shut down next year leaving a hole in the region's emissions-free power generation, puts out about 680 megawatts.
While seeking a foothold for energy off the Massachusetts coast, the project developers say they have kept fishing interests top of mind.
Vineyard Wind has proposed projects capable of generating 400 megawatts or 800 megawatts. If the company wanted to maximize electricity generation with the lowest investment, it would have proposed turbines lined up like a fence facing the prevailing wind with other turbines arrayed behind that in a "scattered" pattern to catch the most breeze, according to Erich Stephens, the projects chief development officer. That scattered layout would present a navigational challenge to fishing boats, however, so the company has proposed a grid pattern with space for trawlers to operate and a mile-wide corridor so that fishing boats can easily traverse the wind farm as they voyage between New Bedford and the fishing grounds around Georges Bank.
Vineyard Wind has hired a fisheries representative, intends to hire a fisheries liaison to perform a somewhat different role, and has plans to fund research by UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science & Technology to study the effects of the upcoming construction on fishing, Stephens told the News Service.
Vineyard Wind is a partnership between Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables.
There are two other companies also in the running for selection to supply offshore wind power to Massachusetts ratepayers – Deepwater Wind, which built America's first offshore wind farm near Block Island, and Bay State Wind, a partnership between Ørsted and the utility Eversource.
"Bay State Wind is 100% committed to the fishing industry in New Bedford and throughout Massachusetts," the company said in a statement. "We are the only project that has hired a marine biologist to ensure that we protect marine species and do not interfere with migration patterns, and we will continue to work closely with the fishing industry in the South Coast to minimize disruption and to preserve fish stocks for future generations."
New Bedford is both the nation's top fishing port as measured by the value of catch, mostly owing to the scallop fishery, and offshore wind developers have agreed to use the Whaling City's harbor facilities as a staging area, so it is on its way to becoming an offshore wind hub, as well.
Chaired by the city's mayor, the New Bedford Port Authority controls city-owned harbor infrastructure as well as boat traffic in city waters, and it has the "technical expertise and the credibility" necessary to find solutions, according to the fishermen's letter. The letter requested that no more than 400 megawatts of offshore wind be awarded in the first round, which features a solicitation for up to 800 megawatts, and urged greater "coordination" between the various projects.
The New England Fisheries Management Council, which helps write the rules for fishing in the area, has repeatedly expressed concerns about the possible opening of Atlantic waters for oil and gas drilling and the regulatory council has been tracking offshore wind developments, according to a spokeswoman.
"The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming bodies of water on earth, and we are already seeing evidence of changes in the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem. Given these changes, renewable energy development may be a better focus area for the Atlantic coast at this time," Council Chairman John Quinn wrote to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in February. "While wind and other renewable projects may still have impacts on fisheries, the risks appear to be fewer."
The letter to the governor was sent by the National Coalition for Fishing Communities, a project of Saving Seafood, a group that New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell previously said was created by industry players in his city.
"It is ironic that the possibility of oil and gas development off the U.S. East Coast — as problematic as that may be for many fishermen — has not generated nearly the same level of consternation among fishermen recently as the prospect of an offshore wind industry unwilling to undertake the hard work of a serious, substantive engagement with our industry," the Saving Seafood letter said.
The Trump administration has raised the prospect of oil drilling in the Atlantic while plans are already well underway for wind farms south of Massachusetts - Baker administration and utility officials plan to select an offshore wind bid or bidders by April 23, but have acknowledged a possible delay.
And while President Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, imposed tariffs on solar panels, and has touted fossil fuel as an energy source, his administration has encouraged the renewable energy industry in other areas.
The American Wind Energy Association on Friday heralded a "major boost" for offshore wind received with the Interior Department's proposal for leasing two additional areas off the Massachusetts shore totaling 390,000 acres, along with other steps.
"Expanding the market for offshore wind is good news for American workers and the coastal communities needed to manufacture, deploy and operate these projects," the association's CEO, Tom Kiernan, said in a statement. "Working closely with the states, this administration can lead the U.S. to become a world leader for offshore wind as it is for other sources of energy."
At next week's fishery management council meeting in Mystic, Connecticut, officials from BOEM will be on hand to solicit feedback on offshore wind, according to the council.
--Andy Metzger, State House News Service
Read the letter to Governor Baker here.