Off of the shore of Block Island on the Rhode Island coast, five wind turbines are operating and supplying power to the island. It took years of state and federal policymaking, environmental impact assessments, and town hall meetings for the 30-megawatt wind farm to come to fruition due to its cost and degradation of vistas. It cost $300 million–$10,000 per kilowatt–about 10 times more than the cost of a new natural gas combined cycle unit. Further, it is 55 percent more costly than what the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects a first-of-a-kind offshore wind unit to cost–$6,454 per kilowatt. In terms of generation costs, EIA expects a new offshore wind farm to be 3 times more expensive than an onshore wind farm.
And now, fishermen are indicating that the wind farm poses serious threats caused by scattering massive metal shafts and snaking underwater cables across prime fishing grounds. Electricity from the turbines is routed via submarine cables to Block Island and to the mainland. Fishermen complain that the area where the cable lines extend to the mainland is completely devoid of fish, which used to be fruitful fishing grounds. Fishermen also complained that their lines have caught on the concrete casings that cover portions of cables that are not buried.
Other Offshore Wind Projects Being Considered
Officials are about to announce the winners of bids to develop much larger wind farms 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Those offshore wind projects are expected to span hundreds of thousands of acres and generate 1,600 megawatts of turbines within a decade.
Fishermen across the region have been pressing officials for answers to their concerns about where the turbines will be located, how far apart they will be built, and the placement of the cables to the mainland. Commercial fishermen urged regulators to study the potential impact of the proposed wind farms on marine mammals, spawning grounds of herring and squid, and other species that inhabit the area. The fishermen also raised questions about the impact of electromagnetic waves pulsing across the seafloor on species such as sharks, which navigate and hunt in part by sensing electrical currents, and how rotating turbine blades could impede their ability to navigate with radar.
One company (Vineyard Wind),proposing to build a $2 billion, 800-megawatt wind farm, is considering a different placement of the turbines. Instead of placing turbines in an irregular pattern, which would produce the most energy, the company would position them in rows, eight-tenths of a mile apart that would allow two fishing vessels to drag their nets through the area at the same time.
In 2016, to protect valuable scallop and squid grounds, the fishing industry filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to stop the development of a 26-mile wind farm off Long Island, New York. Besides scallops and squids, the site for the proposed wind farm includes ocean habitats for loggerhead sea turtles, right whales, black sea bass and summer flounder. Fishermen claim that the government never adequately addressed their concerns and failed to consider alternative locations.
They assert that BOEM’s process for awarding the lease failed to properly consider the planned wind farm’s impact on area fish populations and habitats, shore side communities, safety, and navigation, which violates the National Environmental Policy Act, requiring an assessment of these impacts before issuing the lease, a full Environmental Impact Statement, and an evaluation of alternative locations. BOEM’s failure to consider the impacts to fisheries, safety, navigation and other natural resources prior to moving forward with the leasing process also violates the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which charges BOEM with considering and providing for existing ocean users. And BOEM’s actions violate the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits agencies from acting in ways that are arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is the federal agency located in the Department of Interior that oversees the development of offshore wind projects as well as other offshore projects. Officials at the Bureau indicate that they are conducting studies to address fishermen’s concerns.
Statoil, which is two-thirds owned by the Norwegian government, won the bid to develop 79,000 acres of ocean off Long Island through a federal auction, bidding $42.5 million. Their plan is to erect 80 to 100 turbines 14 miles south of Long Beach, extending south-eastward with a capacity of up to 1,000 megawatts.
States considering offshore wind energy (e.g. Massachusetts, Maryland, New York) need to be aware of the ramifications of constructing and operating wind turbines off their coasts. Not only is the technology expensive, but fishermen believe that the turbines pose a real threat to their livelihoods. The opposition of the fishing industry could prove a hindrance for developers of proposed offshore wind farms.