United States

United States

Fishing and offshore industries no closer to finding solutions

The rift between some major commercial fishing interests and the nascent US offshore-wind sector remains as wide as ever, according to public comments submitted in response to a US Coast Guard (USCG) port-access study.

Conflicts with the fishing industry have been less of a problem in Europe than the US (pic: WindEurope)
Conflicts with the fishing industry have been less of a problem in Europe than the US (pic: WindEurope)

Outstanding permitting for the delayed 800MW Vineyard project off Massachusetts may not be resolved until December, when the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is expected to issue a final decision.

A much-awaited supplement to the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) is currently expected on 12 June.

The Vineyard phase 1 of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid’s "pathfinder" project will miss its original commissioning date of 2022. The deadline for a conditional order for MHI Vestas V164-9.5MW turbines expired in early March.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had refused to endorse BOEM’s draft EIS for Vineyard, complaining that fishing concerns were not addressed adequately. This helped trigger the government’s ongoing analysis of offshore wind’s cumulative impacts in the region.

Studying cumulative impacts is extremely complicated, said Bonnie Ram, a senior researcher at the Centre for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware. BOEM is not a large agency and is learning as it proceeds, she noted.

"I think it’s fair to say that the US federal government was not expecting the industry to ramp up in the way it did, and that some permitting timelines probably suffered as a result," added Rachel Shifman, a wind analyst at BloombergNEF.

"On the other hand, the Trump administration did just increase BOEM’s budget, which should help alleviate some permitting pinch points."

Unresolved issues

Transit lanes of 4 nautical miles (7.4km) wide and up to 70nm (130km) long for a wind-development area off Massachusetts and Rhode Island, proposed by a major fishing group, the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (Roda), area major sticking point.

The project developers that would be impacted — Vineyard Wind, Mayflower Wind, Ørsted/Eversource and Equinor — had already proposed a compromise that turbines be spaced 1 nautical mile (1.9km) apart without the transit lanes.

In public comments on the USCG port-access study, Meghan Lapp, fisheries liaison for frozen fish supplier Seafreeze, a subsidiary of Spain-based conglomerate Grupo Profand, called for the lanes.

However, the USCG draft study said that no additional vessel routing measures would be needed if turbines were installed in a standard, uniform grid pattern with standard spacing and at least three lines of orientation.

The agency did not comment on the developers’ 1 x1 nm proposal.

Lapp also called for an assurance of maritime safety that she said would be compromised by radar interference from wind turbines.

Lapp cited a study overseen by the USCG on radar impacts of the Cape Wind project, the ill-fated 486MW wind farm off Massachusetts that should have been America’s first commercial offshore project but was litigated to death until developer Energy Management pulled the plug in 2017.

But the USCG’s draft study said it was not aware of an "authoritative" scientific study that confirms or refutes the concern that turbines will degrade marine radar.

According to Ørsted and Eversource, joint owners of three BOEM leases in the New England wind energy area, the proposed transit lanes would result in the loss of more than 50 wind turbines from their South Fork, Revolution, and Sunrise Wind projects.

"This equates to nearly a 25% loss in total wind-turbine locations needed to support our PPAs [power purchase agreements]," they said.

The transit lanes "may render the billions of dollars of investment economically unfeasible", the partners warned.

Ørsted, the global sector leader, is a member of a joint task force with Roda, along with six other wind developers — EDF Renewables, Equinor, Mayflower, Vineyard, Avangrid and EnBW. Public comments closed on 16 March.

The other main sticking point is access to fishing grounds within proposed wind arrays, Annie Hawkins, Roda’s executive director, pointed out in an interview with Windpower Monthly.

While Roda has not specifically endorsed the developers’ uniform layout with 1-nautical-mile spacing, it has not objected either.

Pressure to meet targets

Hawkins called current regulations for offshore wind woefully inadequate with regard to commercial fishing.

She cites the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which calls for offshore-wind development to be "carried out in a manner that provides for consideration of any other use of the sea or seabed, including use for a fishery, sea lane, a potential deep-water port, or navigation."

She described BOEM’s guidelines as too vague and incomprehensive.

States set offshore-wind goals that create what she described as a "feedback loop" of developers rushing in to meet these targets without taking enough time to survey an area for turbines and cables or liaise with fishermen.

"If they did include fisheries mitigation in a bid, their price would almost certainly come in higher than their competitors and they would lose the contract, since bids are weighed almost entirely on price per unit of energy," she said.

The wind industry vehemently disputes that there is not enough consultation and planning.

Vineyard Wind recalls that it hired the first designated fisheries liaison for US offshore wind in 2010, and that it held more than 100 meetings with fisheries representatives in 2017 and 2018 alone.

Need for regional approach

One problem is that individual states are setting aggressive goals for offshore-wind development, but neither fish nor fishing vessels stick to state lines, as Ram pointed out.

"A regional approach is desperately needed," she said, citing the vast pressures on commercial fishing, from climate change to pollution and plastic waste.

"We need to think bigger, we need to think regionally, and we need to think of climate impacts."

Asked if offshore oil and gas has faced less scrutiny than offshore wind, she said there were fewer regulations when offshore fossil fuels got off the ground 50 years ago.

In Europe, there have been isolated disputes over co-existence, such as protests by fishermen in Amsterdam. The Netherlands and Belgium are working on a regulatory framework to allow transit and co-use in offshore wind farms, without bottom trawling, according to WindEurope.

In Germany, fishing is not the most important competing use due to the sector’s declining economic importance as a result of overfishing in the North Sea, according to Heike Winkler, managing director of German offshore-wind industry group WAB.

The UK, which has more of a fishing industry than Germany, allows fishing within arrays, excluding bottom trawling.

However, fishermen have become fearful of their gear becoming entrapped by seabed obstacles such as cables, and wary of vessel breakdown with the consequent risk of turbine collision, said WindEurope.

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