As commercial offshore wind development moves closer to the Vineyard, leading state energy officials appeared on the Island early this week to provide a progress report.
Last week Gov. Deval Patrick announced that 742,000 acres of ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard will soon be available for commercial wind energy leases. The project would be the largest wind energy project in federal waters and would nearly double federal offshore areas available for wind energy projects.
On Monday night, a small crowd gathered at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven to hear representatives from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) speak about the project.
Bill White from MassCEC said the area would essentially double the federal government’s offshore wind area, potentially generating four to five megawatts of clean electricity for the commonwealth. He said the Department of Energy estimates that solar wind could generate 43,000 jobs in the United States by 2030. But most important, he said environmental benefits top the list.
“The Vineyard is an Island community that is extraordinarily cognizant and susceptible to changes in the climate and what that is doing not only to this community, but to the coastal state of Massachusetts,” Mr. White said. “Climate change is a significant issue for the commonwealth, and I think it is a significant issue for the country.”
Maureen Bornholdt from BOEM spoke about recent progress in the commercial leasing process at the wind energy area. She said the first phase, planning and analysis, is complete and now comes the second phase, which is to lease the area.
Ms. Bornholdt walked the audience through the history of the project, showing how the proposed wind area has changed and developed since it was initially suggested in 2009. She thanked the public for their comments and advice that she said helped refine the proposal in the nearly five years since it was first suggested.
Jessica Stromberg, also of BOEM, explained the proposed sale notice, which has triggered a 60-day public comment period that ends at midnight on August 18. During that period BOEM will also accept application materials from parties interested in bidding on the leases.
Ms. Stromberg showed a map of the wind area, delineated into the four proposed lease areas. The auction will take into account both cash bids and non-monetary credits. The two non-monetary variables are community benefits of up to five per cent and a power purchase agreement up to 25 per cent. The auction will be held online and will consist of multiple rounds.
Brian Krevor, who also works at BOEM as the Massachusetts NEPA coordinator, said a revised environmental assessment was published on June 18 and included significant changes over the last one, responding to 25 comments from the last assessment. With this assessment, BOEM determined that all environmental impacts were negligible or minor, he said. As a result, an Environmental Impact Study will not be required. While the project could affect some endangered species, Mr. Krevor said it would not jeopardize the existence of any of the species.
BOEM is still studying environmental impacts and will continue to study and conduct research as the project moves forward, he said.
Comments from Islanders attending the meeting focused primarily on community benefits, including jobs.
“I would like to be able to say to the kids in our high school that you should consider a career in the wind energy industry and if you do you can get a job here, you don’t need to move,” said Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman, fisheries advocate and member of a state task force on offshore wind. Mr. Doty said he was concerned that jobs generated from the wind energy area would go to off-Island applicants.
Tristan Israel, a selectman from Tisbury, said he felt the community benefits to the Vineyard needed to be increased because Islanders will be the ones who primarily see the impacts of wind energy.
Discussion ranged into many other areas from state surveys of marine wildlife to the process of power transmission from offshore wind farms.
Tyler Studds from MassCEC said a study by his agency estimated that over 10 years, the Massachusetts wind area could generate 3,000 megawatts of power using existing technology. This power would need to come through a 345 kV substation, which does not currently exist on Martha’s Vineyard. Along the East Coast, there are eight viable 345 kV substations, he said.
The MassCEC report found that the energy conducted would travel from the wind turbine to a collector substation, which would ramp up the voltage. From there, the AC energy would travel to a high voltage converter substation, where it would be converted into DC which allows it to travel the long distance of about 130 miles to the shore. There, the energy would be converted back to AC at another converter substation.
While initially, MassCEC considered carrying the power in a single line, the study determined that this would present reliability issues. In order to avoid this, there will need to be several lines, each with its own substations. The study determined that 1,000 megawatts is the maximum amount of power that can be reliably conducted through one line.
After Mr. Studds answered clarifying questions, Bruce Carlisle from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs gave the final presentation of the evening, a brief update to the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan. The plan protects whale habitats, fish resource areas, marine birds, and more. The oceans act requires that the secretary review the plan every five years to ensure that it is up to date.
Mr. Carlisle reiterated the importance of considering the impact of transmission, and not just of the turbines themselves. The updated Ocean Management Plan takes into account transmission as well as updates to the 2009 plan, he said. With the Ocean Plan still adapting, he said the agency is seeking broad public comment.
Mr. Doty inquired about how the cables would be buried, and recommended the use of a plow system rather than a jet system to ensure that the cables stay underground. He also voiced his concern over the lack of fishing restrictions above the cables. Mr. Carlisle assured that there would be regular surveys to ensure the burial depth of the cables as a condition of state permits.
The officials answered other questions before the meeting was forced to an end by the impending deadline of the 7:15 p.m. ferry.