Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Fishermen are not happy with the latest offer from Vineyard Wind and appear headed to buyouts and other compensation rather than a redesign of the proposed 84-turbine offshore wind project.
At the project’s most recent meeting, Jan. 3 at the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute, Vineyard Wind had no new map or compensation plan to share with the Coastal Resources Management Council’s Fishermen’s Advisory Board (FAB) and the 30 or so fishermen in the room.
Instead, Vineyard Wind CEO Lars Thaaning Pedersen got an earful from what sounded like a mutinous crew.
Commercial fisherman Chris Brown, a FAB member, chastised Pedersen for failing to meet with the board after a promise to do so in November. He accused Pedersen of garnering support for the wind project from Gov. Gina Raimondo.
“Don’t waste my time anymore dragging me to these things that is a forgone conclusion,” Brown said. “I don’t need to go to some governor-produced fake meeting. That’s bullshit. It’s a waste of my time.”
Todd Sutton, a lobster and gill-net fisherman out of Newport, said the review process was another example of big business quashing smaller business.
“I’m insulted by what the wind farm and the governor and some of these people are trying to do to us,” he said.
Pedersen reiterated his plan to minimize the loss of fishing access to the federal wind zone by offering financial compensation and building fewer turbines, which is possible by increasing the size to taller models with 9.5-megawatt generators. But one big issue, so far, is agreeing on the data provided by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to determine the compensation.
Jason McNamee, DEM’s chief of marine resource management, said data is lacking on lobster and crab catches and therefore he must rely on trends and assumptions to determine a dollar figure for landings and related expenses.
FAB member and commercial fisherman Mike Marchetti questioned the usefulness of trends and assumptions and said there isn’t enough time to review the science and math behind the forthcoming compensation plan.
“It’s mind-boggling where this all can go,” he said. “The problem is this is too new and we don’t have anything we can firmly put our finger on. The science hasn’t been done and there are too many questions.“
Lanny Dellinger, a lobsterman out of Newport and chair of the FAB, noted that time is running out.
“It’s 12 days from now and we need to vote. We are up against it,” he said.
On Nov. 27, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) granted Vineyard Wind a 60-day extension for submitting its plan for review. Although the project is in federal water due south of Cape Cod, CRMC has jurisdiction in the application process because Rhode Island-based activities such as fishing take place in the designated wind zone.
CRMC executive director Grover Fugate said in November that buyouts of fishing boats and/or permits was a last resort and instead encouraged a collaborative modification of the 160,000-acre area 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. Fishermen expressed concern about crashing into turbines, especially in foul weather, and wanted wider lanes for passage and fishing and more space between each turbine to ensure safety and room for rescues, if needed.
There has been little communication between Vineyard Wind and the FAB since that late-November CRMC meeting. Rather than a discussion about a modified layout of the offshore project, the recent meeting, Fugate said, was indented to “work on a compensation package that might be suitable to overcome some of the issues that have been identified that are obviously detrimental to the fishery.”
One reason for Vineyard Wind’s unwillingness to modify the project is the lack of time. Vineyard Wind must have all permits by September to qualify for a federal tax credit. The tax credit is necessary for the expected financing on the 9-cent-per-kilowatt-hour price the developers will receive in its 20-year power-purchase agreement. Approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is expected by mid-July. Any significant changes to the current design would add more than a year to the application process, according to Vineyard Wind.
On Jan. 7, Vineyard Wind postponed public hearings scheduled for Jan. 8 and 9 because of the federal government shutdown. The public can comment of the environmental impact statement on the BOEM website until Jan. 22.
Provided there are no other delays caused by the federal shutdown, the FAB is expected to vote on Vineyard Wind’s offer at its Jan. 15 meeting. The full CRMC board will consider the FAB’s recommendation when it votes on the project Jan. 22.
Vineyard Wind, based in New Bedford, Mass., is 50 percent owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and 50 percent by Avangrid Renewables.