Fishermen Wary of Offshore Wind Projects

Fishermen are concerned that ocean wind farms will make it difficult to fish as they have in the past. Photo courtesy SCIENCE ALERT

The race to sea is picking up speed, at least among offshore wind energy developers. Following passage of An Act to Promote Energy Diversity in 2016, Massachusetts required the state’s electric distribution companies to procure 1,600 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind energy within the next decade. The state’s final goal is to purchase 1.6 gigawatts (GW) by 2027. As a result, three firms have submitted bids in response to the state’s Clean Energy solicitation. The state plans to select the winning bid by April 23 and have a signed contract by early July, 2018.
The three firms are Deepwater Wind, developer of the five-turbine Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island state waters; Bay State Wind; and Avangrid (a subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A.). Avangrid earlier applied for the state and federal permits necessary to build an 800-MW farm 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. The state has already invested in the development of offshore wind power by funding construction of the new $113 million Marine Commerce Terminal in New Bedford to support turbine construction and shipment.
In December 2017, Cape Wind Associates pulled out of its bid to build a 130-turbine wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal, an area of federal water in Nantucket Sound nine miles east of Martha’s Vineyard, bringing an end to the controversial project begun in 2001. Massachusetts’ 2016 landmark energy bill limited its new contracts to companies whose projects are at least 10 miles from shore and who acquired federal leases in a competitive process after January 1, 2012. This excluded Cape Wind, whose windfarms would have been easily visible from the island and the mainland.
Meanwhile, Deepwater Wind announced plans last year to construct a 90-MW project called the South Fork Wind Farm off Montauk on Long Island. The plan calls for fifteen wind turbines connected to a substation in East Hampton by a 50-mile undersea cable. The South Fork Wind Farm would be the first project in the company’s development of a 256-square-mile area of federal waters located between Martha’s Vineyard and Long Island, which it leased from the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in 2013. New York State has set a goal of drawing 50% of its power from renewable sources by 2030, with 2.4 GW of that total coming from offshore wind projects.
In New Jersey, the new administration of Governor Phil Murphy supports offshore wind development. Recent leases of offshore submerged lands led Ørsted, a Danish company, and US Wind to propose ocean wind projects in a 344,000-acre area off Atlantic City. US Wind also holds the lease for a wind project located twelve miles off Ocean City, Maryland. Plans call for installing 187 turbines in 20-30 meters of water across approximately 80,000 acres. The Maryland project is expected to produce up to 750 MW of power, which will meet 100% of that state’s offshore wind renewable energy goals.
Maine has only one offshore wind project under development, located in state waters off Monhegan Island. “New York and New Jersey are actively moving to get going. Massachusetts and Rhode Island are trying to develop wind projects. Maine is not,” said Suzanne McDonald, Community Energy Director of the Island Institute. “There is no government mandate in Maine to develop offshore wind.”
In 1999 Maine passed a law that created the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, which stated that 40% of retail electricity sales in the state would come from renewable sources by 2017. In 2009, an additional law established goals for wind energy development in the state that included developing 300 MW or more of wind energy in coastal waters by 2020, increasing to 5,000 MW by 2030. In January 2018, Governor LePage issued an executive order establishing the Maine Wind Advisory Commission placing “a moratorium on issuing any new permits related to wind turbines until this Commission studies the economic impact that such development would have on tourism in Maine,” said LePage in a press statement. “Tourism, especially returning visitors, is a major driver for the Maine economy. We cannot afford to damage our natural assets in ways that would deter visitors from returning to Maine.” Additionally, the Public Utilities Commission announced in January that it will delay the approval of a 20-year power agreement it approved with Maine AquaVentus three years ago.
The burgeoning number of projects has alarmed fishermen up and down the East Coast. The executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Bonnie Brady, is a strong critic of the windfarms. The South Fork Wind Farm and subsequent projects are, according to Brady, “A really bad idea that’s going to make some hedge funders a nice big chunk of change and then they can move on to their next prey.” Having wind farms all along the East Coast will make commercial fishing nearly impossible in the long term, Brady argued. “Fishermen go where the fish are, so depending on which fish species that you’re trying to catch, right off of Montauk you could have fishermen from Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, and Connecticut and Rhode Island,” she said. “Let’s say if squid this year was just crazy off Montauk and federal waters, they’d all be there, because that’s where they go. If the fishing is really hot off of Nantucket, then that’s where they go.”
Fishermen are going to court to stop offshore wind projects. A group of fishing organizations, businesses, and communities, led by the Fisheries Survival Fund (FSF), filed a lawsuit in 2017 to reverse BOEM’s December, 2016 lease of submerged lands off the New York coast. The suit seeks to invalidate the lease agreement with the Norwegian firm Statoil to develop the New York Wind Energy Area. Statoil plans to erect approximately 100 wind turbines in the New York Bight. FSF, representing the scallop industry, is the lead plaintiff and is joined by the Garden State Seafood Association and the Fishermen’s Dock Co-Operative in New Jersey; the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in New York; and the Narragansett Chamber of Commerce, Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance, SeaFreeze Shoreside, Sea Fresh USA, and squid processor The Town Dock in Rhode Island.
Norbert Stamps, formerly vice-president of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, and a lobsterman out of Point Judith, Rhode Island, thinks that the reduction in the number of active fishermen in southern New England is allowing the wind companies to dominate. “In Galilee [Point Judith] there used to be 100 inshore lobster boats. Now there’s ten. The average age of a fisherman is in the 60s so the level of participation is low. Apathy is a big problem,” Stamps said.  
Stamps had some insight on the Block Island wind project which was featured in the January issue of Landings. Stamps noted that construction of the Block Island Wind Farm didn’t disrupt fishing very much because so few fishermen operated in the area. “What happened is when Deepwater Wind showed up, they hired a few people to do useless stuff for big money. Those guys were as happy as can be,” he said. But the planned wind projects in federal and state waters along the New England and mid-Atlantic states, he warned, will cause big trouble to those fishermen who are still making a living at sea. “Wind turbines take up a lot of space,” Stamps said. “We’re all just barking at the moon though. There’s so much money coming in, it’s a juggernaut.”