First offshore wind farm leaves fishermen questioning their future

by Erin Massey

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Strong and steady: Ocean winds power the promise of first offshore turbines

First offshore wind farm leaves fishermen questioning their future

Fishermen: We support wind energy, not the location

CAPE COD, Mass. – Anchoring massive wind turbines at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in Nantucket Sound has escalated beyond a bitter battle of “not in my backyard.”

Cape Wind backers call Horseshoe Shoal in the sound a “sweet spot” to keep those turbines spinning but opponents want the project moved some 12 miles away.

The Cape Wind project marks the first offshore wind farm for the U.S., designed to provide up to 75 percent of the electricity demand for Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The planned array of 130 3.6-megawatt wind turbines is projected to power more than 200,000 homes.

(Erin Massey/MEDILL)

Lobbyists for the communities continue to fight the project even though the first turbines could be installed in 2013.

After a decade of pushing Cape Wind, developer Energy Management Inc. has navigated through the opposition and a maze of state and federal permits.

With all the permits finally in place, the next steps will be to secure financing for the $2.5 billion project, install the turbines and cable them to the grid.

And while executives and supporters of the project celebrate the victories that have taken 10 years to achieve, fishermen and many local residents still want the wind farm moved 12 miles east and intend to continue fighting.

Captain Ron Borjeson, a local fisherman for 44 years in Nantucket Sound, knows every current in Horseshoe Shoal, the marine harvest area where he and other fishermen fish. The shoal is rich in scup, sea bass, striped bass, fluke and squid that come out to spawn and feed between the months of April to the end of October.

“Why disrupt a natural cycle and habitat to these fish that have been coming and going for thousands of years?” asked Borjeson.

Other objections to the 130 massive turbines expected to rise 258 feet above the ocean — with the maximum blade tip height reaching 440 feet and the bottom blade tip height at 75 feet — extend beyond the effects they will have on the fisheries.

Concerns include impacts on commercial ship traffic, navigation hazards for boats and ferries, disruption of air traffic signals, increase in electric rates for the entire state of Massachusetts and infringement on sacred tribal lands and other historic properties. Nantucket Sound is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to the cultural and spiritual significance the Sound has to Native American tribes including the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and Quechan tribes.

Barbara Hill, former executive director of Clean Power Now — a nonprofit formed to inform and educate people about viable energy projects — disagrees and said it’s obvious now how the benefits of the project outweigh the odds.

Clean Power Now advocated for Cape Wind from 2003 until earlier this year when the organization considered its job done. Hill said the 1969 NEPA Process, or National Environmental Policy Act, serves “to protect citizens from ill-conceived elements that would impact the environment and not meet the standards of greater good.” NEPA still applies today and has been a big part in the review process for Cape Wind.

“Citizens never believed that there could be a project like Cape Wind that would be a big utility project and offer significant public interest benefits with minimal impacts,” Hill said.

Hill said the sole purpose of her organization was to inform members in order to educate the public due to all the negative press surrounding Cape Wind’s proposal since 2001. Hill also said people were barely “taking a breath,” or a serious look, at all the qualifying elements of the project.

“We didn’t want to take a position on this until we participated in the process. We wanted to come away with real data, real information, real facts, and not information that was skewed and emotionally driven,” she said.

Still lobbyists, such as those who formed the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound in 2002, and some members of the Cape Cod community are as concerned as the fishermen.

Concerns include how the wind turbines will look in the distance of the all too familiar Nantucket Sound horizon they consider nature’s work of art.

Borjeson calls the Sound nature’s mixing bowl of species and said he worries the fish he counts on catching year after year will be thrown out of the bowl if the tides are disrupted by the project.

“Usually tides run east to west, but in the Shoal they tend to gyrate in a circle,” Borjeson said. “Fish like to be comfortable and the tides play a big part of it. My feeling: I am not against wind power, what I am against is the location.”

Borjeson said another spot should be considered, noting areas as close as Stone Horse Shoal, roughly 12 miles to the east end of the Horseshoe.

(Erin Massey/MEDILL)

Still, Hill defends Cape Wind as not only a viable option for cleaner energy, but the most considered plan in the history of energy production.

At a meeting in her hometown of Barnstable, Mass., Hill compared the stack of documents Cape Wind needed to get approved with the files regarding approval for the deep-water rigs that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. She put the stacks side by side.

She said the ones that had been produced for Cape Wind stood 5 1/2 feet tall compared to the short stack of documents for the deep-water rigs.

“The machine that Cape Wind is going to use is tried and tested and [the company] has created a relationship with Siemens—who they will be getting the turbines from. They are out there doing geological work right now, which is a good thing,” Hill said.

Cape Wind has required years of surveying all potential locations in order to test the possible environmental impacts of the turbines.

“Most companies strive to make sure balance is there, to make the project profitable and not assign loss to a community,” said Keleigh Williams, director of marketing at Atwell, LLC, a consulting and construction management company located in Naperville, Ill., that is not associated with Cape Wind.

The process of securing a location for a massive project such as Cape Wind extends beyond the grueling method of obtaining approvals and permits—it also requires a consulting company to survey the land, or water, to identify the most ideal location where profit meets functionality.

The goal of the testing is to determine the amount of wind expected to be generated as well as the least amount of negative impact on the surrounding environments, such as the fisheries. Williams said in weighing these options, if the negative impacts outweigh the benefits, then that location should no longer be considered.

And despite preferences by certain groups of people— such as the fishermen who said they fear not only that the fish populations will be diminished, but that lugging hundreds of pounds of fishing equipment around the turbines would be virtually impossible—the Shoal is the exact location that makes the most sense for Cape Wind.

According to the draft of the Marine Biological Assessment prepared by ESS Group, Inc. for the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers in 2004, “the analysis determined that Nantucket Sound is the only technically and economically feasible environment for installation of an offshore wind park based on the application of prescreening criteria.”

The analysis compared Horseshoe Shoal at Nantucket, Monomoy-Handkerchief Shoal and Tuckermuck Shoal.

Angela Sanfilippo, executive director for the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, said the 19 fisheries her organization represents are against the project.

She said she is concerned for the safety of the fishermen and what will happen to the fish.

“We don’t know what the damage to the fishing grounds will be, including all the species we fish in Massachusetts,” Sanfilippo said.

Sanfilippo said the towers will be close to each other. Each turbine will be roughly .34 nautical miles away from other turbines, or six football fields, and each row will be .54 nautical miles from the other rows, or approximately nine football fields.

“We fish mostly by dragging, which means we need the ocean to maneuver and this will no longer be possible,” Sanfilippo said. “This will be putting fishermen at risk.”

Then there’s the fog. Borjeson said thick fog blankets the Sound 86 days a year, and it will be even more difficult for him and “other commercial traffic that may not have navigation equipment to meander through there.”

But Hill said that the 25 miles taken up by Cape Wind is really a small area in comparison to the 500 square miles of the entire Sound.

“The only thing we can go on is the experience in Europe,” said Hill about the recent wind turbine projects off the coast of Denmark.
“We were in Denmark on a boat and went around the turbines,” Hill said. “We saw birds flying in and around the array and reports out of Europe the seals and other aquatic animals disturbed during construction come back.”

Hill also said that the turbine structures built into the seabed will produce an artificial reef and recreational fishing will become more prolific. She conceded that there may be some types of fishing gear that cannot work in the 25 square mile radius of the project.

“Because the boats take up wide swaths of ocean, so much of that gear scrapes the entire bottom of the Sound, completely decimating the ground fishing, and so it’s not sustainable type of fishing,” she said.

Because Cape Wind will be the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., there is no set data on how this will affect fish populations among other things, though studies have been conducted in an attempt to predetermine the outcome, said Sanfilippo.

Like the Massachusetts Fishermen’s Partnership, Audra Parker, president and CEO of Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, is not backing down.

“We will continue this fight until we win,” Parker said, adding that some of the ways they could possible secure victory include Cape Wind “relocating to another area, like the areas further offshore away from all the conflicted locations. Another scenario would be that we win some or all of the lawsuits. Another scenario would be that they don’t get financing or sell all of their power,” Parker said.

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