PROVIDENCE – A coalition of Massachusetts commercial fishermen claims New England is not prepared for a cluster of wind-energy farms planned off the Cape Cod and Rhode Island coasts.
If fully built out, the offshore wind farms would cover a 1,400-square-mile area larger than the Ocean State and would negatively impact marine life and fishing grounds, the group said.
“Commercial fishing families, as stewards of the ocean, are concerned that a new industry is developing at a rapid pace without adequate science and risk management,” the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership stated in a release Wednesday.
“It’s true that most New Englanders are in favor of increasing renewable energy sources like wind farms,” the group said. “But it is also true that most New Englanders are not aware of the sheer magnitude and ecological disruption of the industrial development that will soon dominate their coast.”
The Fishermen’s Partnership singled out Vineyard Wind LLC, which is expected to start construction this year on an 84-turbine wind farm in federal waters the company has leased off Cape Cod with the goal putting the wind farm into operation in 2021.
The fishermen’s group said Vineyard Wind is rushing the project to ensure it receives federal tax credits before they expire.
Saying the fishing industry has raised “important questions,” Vineyard Wind said it has taken rigorous steps to protect the marine environment, including fisheries monitoring studies and an agreement to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
“For over two years, Vineyard Wind has been directly engaged in pre-permitting and permitting activity in furtherance of providing New England residents with a much-needed supply of clean wind energy that is abundantly available off the coast,” the company said in a statement.
“Pre-permitting activities have included robust data collection by Vineyard Wind, SMAST [the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology] and other scientists to inform the existing conditions,” the company said. “Extensive habitat data has been collected throughout the project area.”
In addition, Vineyard Wind said it has committed to join with other offshore wind energy developers to form the Responsible Offshore Science Association to coordinate on research topics and resources along the Atlantic coast.
Wednesday’s statement from Massachusetts fishermen came as they try to reach an agreement with Vineyard Wind on a compensation package, like the one approved in February between the company and Rhode Island fishermen.
The Rhode Island agreement called for a package worth an estimated $16.7 million, including $4.2 million to be held in escrow as a “direct compensation fund” to pay claims of Rhode Island vessels and fisheries related to negative impacts of the Vineyard Wind project.
Angela Sanfilippo, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, said Vineyard Wind recently offered her group about $8 million in compensation that would be controlled by an overseer appointed by the company, but her group has not responded to the offer.
Though asked for comment about it, Vineyard Wind’s statement did not mention the fishermen’s compensation issue.
Sanfilippo said Wednesday’s announcement was not about leveraging more money out of the company, rather it was about protecting natural resources for fishermen and the general public.
“We understand it’s clean energy,” Sanfilippo said, “but do we swap one natural resource for another?”
Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities issued an order approving long-term contracts for 800 megawatts of electricity production between Vineyard Wind and that state’s electricity distribution companies.
Meanwhile, Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind has said it could start construction on an 85-turbine wind energy farm off Rhode Island next year with the goal of putting it into operation in 2023.
Other companies also have leased federal waters off the southern New England coast to develop wind energy farms.
Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.