Concern about endangered whales cited in suit over wind farm

BOSTON – The construction of dozens of wind turbines off the coast of Nantucket threatens the survival of a dwindling number of endangered North Atlantic right whales that inhabit the waters, argues a group of residents of the affluent Massachusetts vacation island in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

According to ACK Residents Against Turbines, Vineyard Wind’s proposed project of approximately 60 turbines is located 22 kilometers south of the island in a crucial area for foraging and caring for the species, which researchers estimate are fewer than 400 in number.

Mary Chalke, a Nantucket resident and member of the opposition group, said the lawsuit affects not only Vineyard Wind but other turbine projects in the pipeline along the east coast as well.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management named in the lawsuit and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Vineyard Wind, a joint venture between a Danish company and a US subsidiary of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, also declined to comment.

But the American Clean Power Association, a group representing renewable energy companies, insisted the project had undergone lengthy environmental review, approval, and public comment.

“It appears that this lawsuit is being brought by local residents who are motivated by aesthetic concerns as well as whatever is alleged in their complaint,” Tom Vinson, a vice president of the association, said in a statement.

Vallorie Oliver, a Nantucket resident, admitted that the visibility of the towering structures – which could be up to 260 meters tall and obscure Boston’s 240-meter Hancock Tower – was one of the group’s concerns.

However, she argues that federal officials have also failed to provide adequate research to support their claims that the wind project will have minimal impact on right whales and other marine life.

“We just ask for real science-based answers about the effects on our natural environment,” she said to fellow group members outside the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The 800-megawatt project approved in May, with a volume of nearly $ 3 billion, would be the first utility-scale wind turbine in federal waters. It is scheduled to go into operation in 2023 and generate enough electricity to supply 400,000 households with electricity.

The project and Ocean Wind, a planned 1,100 megawatt offshore wind project off New Jersey, are cornerstones of the Biden government’s efforts to increase offshore wind power to combat climate change and create jobs.

According to ACK Residents Against Turbines, the projects could be joined by up to five other large-scale projects with a total of more than 2,000 turbines on 5,180 square kilometers of ocean.

Despite the enthusiasm, US offshore wind development is still far behind the progress made in Europe. One small wind farm is in operation near Block Island in the waters controlled by the state of Rhode Island, and another small wind farm is off the coast of Virginia.

The Nantucket Group, whose name refers to the three-letter code for the island’s airport, is the latest effort against large wind projects.

Fishermen cruising the lucrative waters from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Montauk, New York have long been concerned about the potential impact on their livelihoods.

Bob Vanasse, director of fisheries advocacy, Saving Seafood, said Vineyard Wind and other proposed projects in the area could impact a number of major fisheries, including octopus, clams and scallops.

“There are a number of groups in different fisheries that have raised concerns about the inadequacy of planning and review efforts,” he said on Wednesday. “This group is by no means alone.”

Vineyard Wind also comes years after the infamous Cape Wind project, which failed after a bitter legal battle by another group that also owned Nantucket.

Vineyard Wind supporters have said the newer project is better located than Cape Wind, which was proposed closer to the coast.

However, recent wind projects proposed off North Carolina and New York were pushed further out to sea after environmental concerns were raised, said David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute, a Delaware-based group that is also opposed to wind farm proposals.

He argued that Vineyard Wind’s project should be placed up to 30 miles from shore.

“Fifteen miles was not okay in North Carolina or Long Island, then why is it okay with Nantucket?” Said Stevenson. “It’s just wrong.”