US Coast Guard Backs Wind Developers’ Plan in New England

Shipping Activity in 2017 Overlaid with Vineyard Wind Project

President Trump has slowed the development of offshore wind in the Atlantic, but the U.S. Coast Guard just completed its study of how wind farms in the ocean off New England would impact ports in the region and its recommendations are “largely in line with a proposal that the five developers that hold leases for offshore wind sites off New England made late last year,” according to State House News Service in Massachusetts The Coast Guard determined that the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the leased ocean areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket is to install the turbines in a uniform layout to create predictable navigation corridors spaced 1 nautical mile apart.

Why This Matters:  Regional fishers advocated for a grid layout with navigation lanes 4 nautical-miles apart — arguing that wider spacing would be necessary “to preserve safe and efficient passage along the routes most often used by fishermen.”  But the Coast Guard, which is expert on marine safety, disagreed. This is key because someday there may be hundreds of turbines sited in those waters – they are very well-suited to wind energy.  The fishers called the Coast Guard’s study a “public process failure” that puts them at risk and effectively precludes any fishing within the area, but they had no proof of it. 

Wind Farms Still Under Environmental Review at the Interior Department

Apparently permitting for offshore wind is one NEPA/permitting process the President has not waived.  The fishing industry has been lobbying the Administration hard for many waivers and exceptions to regulations for their own operations — things like lifting the restrictions on fishing in the NE Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which Trump did last week, and having no observers onboard fishing vessels.  But regarding wind farms, the Interior Department is taking a “robust” look at the environmental impacts of wind energy and will “incorporate new information, such as additional state offshore wind targets” based on “stakeholder input.”

Coast Guard Sides With Energy Producers

According to Court House News, the Coast Guard said they had received “various comments … concerning navigation corridors,” including from groups that had asked for navigation corridors between 2 and 4 nm in width. But the Coast Guard concluded that the larger corridors would “actually provide far less area than the numerous corridors that result from the recommended array and spacing.”  They found that the industry’s proposed grid pattern would result in the functional equivalent by creating more numerous navigation corridors that can safely accommodate both transits through and fishing within the wind farm area.

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