CRMC Grants More Time to Vineyard Wind Project

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Vineyard Wind was recently granted an extension by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) despite opposition from commercial fishermen and a short amount of time for the $2 billion wind farm to secure approvals.

The 94-turbine project is hoping to meet several deadlines in 2019 in order to qualify for a tax credit and receive the funding it needs to sell its electricity for a profit.

Rather than meet the full design demands requested by fishermen, Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen seemed inclined to pay fishermen for lost revenue. The amount would be decided after discussions with the fishermen and likely include a combination of payment to owners of fishing boats and funding for fisheries studies.

“We are trying to set up meetings already now,” Pedersen said after the Nov. 27 hearing, noting that the CRMC board expects weekly updates on the negotiations. “To the extent that we are impacting fisheries there will have to be compensation payment and it can be structured in different ways.”

The fishermen at the hearing, however, seemed less interested in additional negotiations and urged the CRMC board to deny any extension.

Brian Thibeault, a commercial fisherman out of Point Judith and vice president of the Rhode Island Lobstermen’s Association, said a proposed reconfiguration of the turbines by Vineyard Wind “nowhere near fits any of our requests that we have come forward with. There’s been no comprise on their behalf, essentially.”

Thibeault said if the current proposal is approved, the 250-square-mile area south of Martha’s Vineyard will be a “no fishing zone” for fixed-gear and mobile-gear fishing.

Thibeault and other fishermen said they are hoping Gov. Gina Raimondo will stick to her promise that commercial fishing and offshore wind can coexist.

Katie Almeida, fisheries analyst for the squid processor and dealer The Town Dock, which owns seven vessels out of Point Judith, said the company was excluded from design planning by Vineyard Wind.

“We do not support an extension because if (Vineyard Wind) had only listened and taken into account our concerns in the first place we wouldn't be in this situation right now,” Almeida said.

Lanny Dellinger, chairman of CRMC’s Fisheries Advisory Board and a lobster and crab fisherman out of Newport, said negotiations are at an impasse and that extending the deadline for Vineyard Wind puts fishermen at a disadvantage. The release of a draft environmental assessment by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will likely support the offshore wind project and “make it easier for us to be run over,” he said.

Dellinger noted that Vineyard Wind is the first of several large wind facilities proposed in the 1,400-square-mile federally designated wind zone located south of Massachusetts.

“This is the first one and we should get it right,” he said.

The CRMC board voted to approve the extension until Jan. 28. Donald Gomez was the lone no vote.

Raymond Coia, vice chairman, said the board should grant the time extension because negotiations were ongoing, as per the wishes of CRMC staff and board.

Pedersen insisted that fishermen will be satisfied with an eventual agreement.

“Ultimately, our goal is to have fisheries and offshore wind coexist,” Pedersen said. “We’re here for the long run.”

Although the project is not in Rhode Island waters it must pass a review by the CRMC to be sure it does not harm coastal activities like fishing. Those terms are outlined in the CRMC’s Ocean Special Area Management Plan, or Ocean SAMP

It is the second request for an extension by Vineyard Wind on CRMC’s ruling of that review. 

At the Nov. 13 CRMC meeting, CRMC executive director Grover Fugate said redesigning the layout of the wind farm, known as mitigation, was preferable to paying the fishermen for lost revenue.

Dean Wagner, an attorney representing Vineyard Wind, testified on Nov. 27 that compensation was allowed.

“Vineyard is committed to making the fishermen whole as required by the Ocean SAMP,” Wagner said.