Offshore wind farm area shrinks to protect fishing grounds

Tue, 03/06/2012 - 7:15pm

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced last week that it was reducing the size of its “Wind Energy Area,” located in federal waters between Block Island and Martha’s Vineyard, by approximately 20 percent to protect important fishing grounds. It is also considering new regulations to reduce the potential for harmful impacts from future wind development on right whales.

The wind energy area covers around 165,000 acres of federal water within the “area of mutual interest” recognized by Rhode Island and Massachusetts in a Memorandum of Understanding in 2010. Deepwater Wind is the only company to make public plans to install turbines there. It has proposed a 1,000 megawatt offshore wind farm within the area, which would be the second wind farm for the Providence-based company — it is currently moving ahead with plans for a smaller, five-turbine demonstration project just off the southern shore of Block Island.

The area that was removed is a swath through the mid section of the proposed wind energy area that is known as Cox’s Ledge. BOEM explained in a statement that commercial fishermen considered that area of “high value.” The new zone has been divided into two halves.

“This will help protect the livelihoods of Rhode Island’s fishermen and move forward with establishing commercial wind energy development in Rhode Island, which can bring critical jobs and investment to the state,” said Senator Jack Reed in a statement.

This change will affect Deepwater’s proposal. Although Deepwater’s plan already largely avoided the Cox’s Ledge area, several turbines in their original proposal would fall inside the newly excluded zone.

Deepwater Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Grybowski said that its original proposal was only a preliminary plan that will be revised in the future. He said that the remaining area still has room to accommodate utility size wind projects while protecting important fishing grounds.

Rhode Island began a process to determine an appropriate zone for future wind development by developing the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (SAMP), a comprehensive review of the uses and resources off Rhode Island’s coast.

Rhode Island has secured $22 million in federal funding for improvements to Quonset Point in order to increase port capacity in hopes of using Quonset to support the staging and assembly of offshore wind development.

Before any offshore wind projects are allowed in the area, BOEM plans to perform an environmental assessment to study the impacts of an offshore wind project in the energy area. It has already proposed several measures to protect right whale migration routes including “seasonal restrictions, vessel speed restrictions and enhanced monitoring.”

BOEM identified four other wind energy areas off the Atlantic Coast in February 2011 in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The bureau expects to identify additional areas in the Northeast and off the southern Atlantic states later this year.