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Federal assessment of Vineyard Wind highlights commercial fisheries concerns

Commercial fisheries likely will see major cumulative impacts from the development of the proposed 800-MW Vineyard Wind facility, to be located off the Massachusetts coast, and other offshore wind farms in the region, according to a U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management analysis.

The June 9 analysis is a supplement to an earlier draft environmental impact statement that was released in December 2018 and focused primarily on the planned Vineyard Wind facility. The new supplement expands the initial analysis to include the cumulative impacts of a potential wave of offshore wind projects being developed to help the state meet its ambitious renewable energy targets.

According to an industry impact chart within the 420-page supplement, for-hire recreational fishing companies and commercial fisheries that operate in the area southeast of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., would see moderately detrimental direct and indirect impacts and major unfavorable cumulative impacts. That same chart lists major direct impacts on scientific research and surveys, as well as minor-to-moderate direct and major cumulative impacts for military and national security uses.

But staff with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, also determined that the construction of Vineyard Wind and similar facilities would "likely result in a net decrease" in greenhouse gases and that wind farms "may beneficially contribute to a broader combination of actions to reduce future impacts from climate change."

Specifically, staff said climate change "is altering the seasonal timing and patterns of species distributions and ecological relationships, likely causing permanent impacts of unknown intensity" on the same fauna the commercial fisheries rely upon.

"Warming of ocean waters has been shown to impact the distribution of fish in the northeast U.S. by several species shifting the center of [the total mass of organisms in a given area] either northward or to deeper waters," BOEM noted. "These changes have and will continue to change the distribution of commercial fishing effort."

That conclusion is in line with the results of studies such as a 2019 United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the interconnectivity of ocean warming, species location, decreased fish stock productivity, population replenishment and maximum catch potential.

New transit lane alternative studied

BOEM also considered a transit lane alternative proposed by the Responsible Offshore Development Association that would establish six lanes to ease concerns for vessels moving through the area. According to the supplement, only one of those lanes would intersect Vineyard Wind's development area.

But that proposal has drawbacks of its own, BOEM said, as Vineyard Wind could be delayed "if significant additional survey work is required" before the transit lanes can be implemented. Other problems, including transmission losses that may result if the wind project's cables need to be lengthened to accommodate the transit lane, also would complicate the situation, the analysis said.

More generally, BOEM said, "if all six transit lanes proposed by [Responsible Offshore Development Association] were implemented, the technical capacity of offshore wind power generation [in the region] would not be met."

Although the agency originally announced in March 2018 that it would begin preparing an EIS for the Vineyard Wind facility, it determined in August 2019 that "a greater build-out of offshore wind capacity is reasonably foreseeable than was analyzed in the initial draft" and that further study to account for more-substantial development was necessary.

Since then, the Trump administration has said that Vineyard Wind's permitting would not wrap up until March 2021, pushing back the commercial operations date for the wind farm until at least 2023.

Despite the regulatory setbacks, a Vineyard Wind LLC spokesperson in a June 10 statement said the company is "pleased" by the step forward the release of the supplemental analysis report represents. The wind farm is a joint venture of Denmark-based Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners K/S and Avangrid Renewables LLC, a subsidiary of Avangrid Inc., which is majority-owned by Spain-based Iberdrola SA.

The groups noted that BOEM is scheduled to issue its final supplemental statement Nov. 13 and a record of decision on the Vineyard Wind project Dec. 18.