Perhaps it’s because we are exhausted from fighting Cape Wind for so long, perhaps we are tired of the specious arguments against appropriately sited offshore wind, or perhaps we are frustrated by the small minority of people who would delay or even stop a project that benefits the common good.
Whatever the reason, we are not going to oppose Vineyard Wind’s proposal to run its offshore wind cables through Lewis Bay.
Vineyard Wind, one of three wind energy developers seeking to build large wind farms 15-25 miles offshore, wants to connect cables from its wind farm to an electric substation off Oak Street in Barnstable. Developers prefer that the cables be buried 6 to 7 feet below the seafloor and routed through Lewis Bay and Yarmouth before reaching the Barnstable substation.
Yet several West Yarmouth residents who live near Lewis Bay are protesting the plans. The complaints range from the alleged disruption of scallop dredging to water degradation and potential leaks from transformer fluids at the substation.
“Lewis Bay boasts a combination of recreational boating, beaches, swimming, fishing, and both commercial and recreational shellfishing with channel access to Nantucket Sound for ferries and commercial fishing vessels,” wrote one of those opposed. “Ocean currents, channel dredging and increased ferry traffic already contribute to the rapid filling-in of Lewis Bay, limit navigable water and impact marine life.”
We doubt the laying of cables will adversely affect boating, beaches or swimming, but if state and federal regulators find that it could contribute to the filling-in of Lewis Bay, then they should require the company to dredge the area before they bury the cables. As for shellfishing, the developers should work with the local fleet to identify potential scallop beds and then work to avoid them. In other words, none of the concerns raised so far are insurmountable.
Some of the arguments against are laughable, such as electric cables may cause cancer in humans and harm marine life. So we can tolerate electric cables in the air above us, but not cables buried 6 or 7 feet in the ocean floor?
As for concerns about the potential for the contamination of drinking water if there is a leak of transformer fluids at the substation, the developer has said the company would build a system to handle any spills as part of the upgrades that would be needed at the substation.
Now let’s weigh the benefits of the wind farm to the larger community. The wind farm, which would consist of an array of turbines spaced at least eight-tenths of a mile apart south of Martha’s Vineyard, has the potential to generate up to 800 megawatts of power. That could bring power to more than 400,000 homes and businesses across the state.
Vineyard Wind is among three companies vying for state contracts to sell offshore wind power to utilities in Massachusetts. The other two projects — Bay State Wind and Revolution Wind — include plans to bring cables onshore in Somerset at the former Brayton Point coal plant. The off-Cape plant has been sold by Dynegy Inc. to Commercial Development Company Inc., which has plans to develop the property with offshore wind energy in mind. All three projects would be located 15 to 25 miles off the coast. The projects are expected to generate hundreds of jobs and boost economic development across the region.
During the state’s environmental review process, the public and other regulators provide comment on a rough sketch of a project and its effects. Vineyard Wind outlined its case in an environmental notification form, which was submitted in December. The deadline to comment on the environmental notification form is Jan. 30.
The project has already received input from numerous stakeholders over the past half decade, including local, state and federal governments; tribes; environmentalists; and working groups from a number of fisheries.
Keep in mind that all three projects would be built in an area that’s been identified by state and federal regulators as being appropriate for offshore wind.
The sooner construction begins on these offshore wind farms, the sooner we all benefit from clean power.