Plans to develop a wind energy area in federal waters south of the Vineyard continue to move forward with the Bureau of Ocean Management (BOEM) releasing an environmental assessment and identifying five different configurations for the area.
At a public hearing last week, bureau representatives said the preferred option would be to develop an 877 square nautical mile area about 12 nautical miles south of the Vineyard, though smaller configurations are also on the table to address concerns about North Atlantic right whales and impacts to cultural resources and view sheds.
After gathering public comment, BOEM will likely decide on a wind area early next year, program manager Maureen A. Bornholdt said.
They would then move on to the leasing phase, she said, which would allow further public comment. The wind energy area would be divided and leased to up to five lessees, who would then conduct their own studies and data collection with meteorological towers and buoys. Leases are valid for 20 years.
Environmental protection specialist Brian Krevor said that with standard operating conditions in place, “there are no reasonably foreseeable significant impacts from the proposed action and all impacts are anticipated to be negligible to minor.”
Mr. Krevor said concerns ranging from marine mammals to commercial fishing and economic impacts were examined. He said that in the daytime, the widest portion of the meteorological tower would not be visible from shore. At night, he said, lighting markers at the top of the tower could be visible on a clear night.
He also outlined the five potential options. The first, and preferred, option would be to develop the entire area, though high-value fishing grounds and sea duck habitats were excluded from the area after public comment.
A second option of 644 square nautical miles would further restrict areas where North Atlantic right whales frequent or are expected to visit. According to the environmental assessment, the whales — which are protected under the Endangered Species act and are said to have a population between 350 and 400 — have been present in the area during migration and sometimes feed there.
Other options would push the wind area further back from the shore because of concerns about the visual impact, one starting 15 nautical miles away from inhabited Massachusetts shoreline and another 21 nautical miles. These options were included “because visible structures in offshore areas could adversely impact the viewshed from onshore historical and cultural resources,” the assessment said.
A final option would call for no action at all, and no wind energy leases granted.
Some of the 30 or so people at the Katharine Cornell Theatre gave comments on the proposals, including several people with Vineyard Power, a local energy cooperative that is interested in developing a wind farm in the area. Concerns included how the wind area would be developed once it is leased, how the power would be distributed, and impacts on the landscape.
“I am extremely concerned about what this wind farm will do to our area,” said Mark Snider, the owner of Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Katama. He said that with his resort looking out over South Beach, he was “extremely concerned about the proximity of wind turbines to the shore and impact with night lighting . . . I know this will have a dramatic visual effect as we can now see from our shore the lighted communication towers from Nantucket, which is a 20-mile distance.”
He said the towers would “completely and forever” change the landscape of the south shore of the Vineyard, and asked for consideration of the 21-nautical mile setback.
Jo-Ann Taylor, the coastal planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, said that North Atlantic right whales do pass through the area, and that the “easiest and best way” to protect whales was “just to not go there.”
An intergovernmental task force was created to discuss the project, with appointees from each Vineyard town.
Erik Peckar with Vineyard Power said he and others had not been able to identify who was on the task force, and asked for further transparency.
Chilmark selectman Warren Doty argued for a benefit to the Island communities, and said that choosing lessees that will give back to the community in some way, like Vineyard Power, “is very important, I think, to everyone in this room.”
The comment period for the environmental assessment ends on Dec. 3.