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U.S. Proposes 8 Wind Energy Areas in the Gulf of Maine

The locations of eight new areas proposed for leasing to energy companies for developing wind farms in the first offshore wind energy auction in the Gulf of Maine. (Map courtesy BOEM)

Posted on May 10, 2024

Local fishermen’s alliance will question effects of offshore turbines

The U.S. Dept. of the Interior announced last week the proposed auction of eight offshore wind lease areas in the Gulf of Maine. The areas selected by the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for potential leases for the development of wind farms encompass nearly a million acres and include one area approximately 23 miles off the back shore of Outer Cape Cod.

The eight areas in the gulf could generate up to 15 GW of electricity, enough to power 5 million homes, according to Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s April 30 announcement.

“It’s a big milestone for clean energy,” Nick Krakoff, senior attorney with the Boston-based nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation told the Independent. “Every pathway says we need offshore wind,” he said.

Offshore wind is key to Massachusetts meeting its decarbonization goals, particularly the state’s Clean Energy and Climate plan, which commits to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Mass. Clean Energy Center, a state agency established to boost the clean energy sector, anticipates that nearly 60 percent of all electricity in the state will be generated by wind by that year.

Cape Cod fishermen are watching the developments closely, according to Aubrey Ellertson Church, policy manager at the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. In an email to the Independent, she said that local fishermen’s primary concern is whether the location of the wind farms would push them out of their traditional fishing areas and into other already-fished areas, increasing competition among boats.

In selecting the eight Gulf of Maine areas that would be offered, BOEM worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to avoid areas that are prominently used as offshore fishing grounds or serve as popular vessel transit routes, according to the Interior Dept.’s announcement. As a result, Ellertson Church said, BOEM established three corridors between the proposed lease areas for ships and boats to travel in.

According to a WBUR report by Nicole Ogrysko, BOEM did not place lease areas in Lobster Management Area 1, a popular site for Massachusetts lobstermen.

Ellertson Church said fishermen were also worried about how future wind farms might affect collision risks or cause navigation difficulties or loss of fishing gear, and that laying offshore wind cables might affect bottom-dwelling fish. “We want to make sure we have a seat at the table as these discussions take place with BOEM and wind developers,” she wrote.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Outer Cape to be on the front line of solving the climate crisis,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr of Truro, who represents the Cape and Islands. Cyr told the Independent that he views the wind farms as a potential economic opportunity for the Outer Cape. “I can see opportunities for an operations and maintenance facility based in Provincetown harbor,” he said. “Also, potentially, activities out of Provincetown Airport.”

He pointed to Martha’s Vineyard as an example of how host communities can benefit from offshore wind, as he said the Vineyard Wind project had created 40 year-round union jobs. He thought that the Outer Cape could benefit financially from a host community agreement with the companies that build and operate the turbines.

Cyr also said the turbines are not likely to be visible from shore. A 2013 study on the visual impact of wind farms led by Robert Sullivan of the Argonne National Laboratory in the United Kingdom found that, while wind turbines can be visible to casual observers at a distance of up to 18 miles, at over 25 miles they were visible only “with extended or concentrated viewing.”

Cyr said he would want to ensure there would not be light pollution from the turbines. He also said he’d want to be sure that experts were involved to prevent important marine habitats from being affected.

Krakoff said that the Conservation Law Foundation is concerned about the placement of the northernmost lease area off the coast of Maine because it includes waters regularly used by right whales. So, while he said of the proposal that “on the whole, it’s a good thing,” he added that his organization plans to encourage BOEM to adjust that area during the public comment period now underway.

The 60-day comment period on the proposed areas runs from May 1 to July 1. Individuals can comment on the website by searching for BOEM-2024-0026 or by attending (in person or online) one of three public meetings set for this later this month: in Portsmouth, N.H. on May 23; in Portland, Maine on May 28; and in Danvers on May 30.


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