As the US East Coast ramps up offshore wind projects, there is still much unknown

POINT PLEASANT BEACH, N.J. (AP) — As the United States races to build offshore wind projects, transforming coastlines from Maine to South Carolina, much is still unknown about how the facilities will impact the environment.

This worries some people, especially those who depend on the sea for their livelihood.

“We don’t have enough science to know what the impact is going to be,” said Jim Hutchinson, managing editor of The Fisherman in New Jersey. “The attitude was: ‘Build it and we’ll figure it out.'”

The wind energy industry rejects such claims, citing years of studies.

So far, four offshore wind projects have been approved by the federal government for the U.S. East Coast, according to the American Clean Energy Association. Vineyard Wind will install 62 turbines about 15 miles off Martha’s Vineyard, which will generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes.

South Fork Wind will put 12 turbines in the waters off Long Island, New York, about 35 miles east of Montauk Point, to power 70,000 homes. Ocean Wind I, the first of two Orsted projects in New Jersey, will place 98 turbines about 15 miles off Atlantic City and Ocean City, generating power for about 500,000 homes. The company is a Danish wind energy company that will build two of the three offshore projects approved for New Jersey.

These projects come in addition to the planned Revolution Wind project, located about 15 miles southeast of Point Judith, Rhode Island, which includes 65 turbines powering approximately 250,000 homes. Many other projects have been proposed, and the US Office of Ocean Energy Management plans to review at least 16 offshore wind projects by 2025.

“It’s all happening so fast,” said Greg Kudnick, a recreational fisherman, bait and tackle shop owner and party boat captain from Ship Bottom, New Jersey. “Science takes time.”

A joint study conducted in March by two federal scientific agencies and the commercial fishing industry documents the numerous impacts offshore wind projects can have on fish and marine mammals, including noise, vibrations, electromagnetic fields and heat transfer that can alter the environment.

As with many existing studies, the report pointed out the complexities of how structures and cables interact with marine life. For example, turbines can attract some fish and repel others.

Large underwater platforms are quickly colonized by smaller, bottom-dwelling marine life, including oysters and crabs, which in turn attract larger predators such as black sea bass, the March study said. Meanwhile, cloudy water generated by turbine operations, noise, vibrations and electromagnetic fields can cause species to leave the area.

In most cases, the report’s authors agreed that more studies are needed. Andy Lipsky, who supervises the wind energy team at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, is a co-author. He said the work helps agencies determine what monitoring is needed for long-term studies, and that more work is needed to determine how offshore wind energy changes marine habitats.

Research in other countries is also thorough. Some European studies have shown that crabs and lobsters are attracted to firmer seabeds that support wind turbines. Others, including flounder and whiting, have been shown to be leaving those areas.

In May, the Biden administration offered an $850,000 grant to gather more information about the hearing abilities of endangered North American right whales, citing “knowledge gaps” in how the animals behave. The application was submitted “to support the rapid development of offshore wind,” according to a notice on the website.

There is already significant research. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has published six or more studies on its website each year since 2016; In several cases, studies called for further investigation and analysis.

Phil Sgro, a spokesman for the American Clean Energy Association, said the industry believes there are enough scientific studies to prove that offshore wind development can be done “in an economically and environmentally responsible manner.”

Opponents blame ocean floor preparation for causing or contributing to the deaths of 70 whales on the US East Coast since December. But three federal agencies say there is no evidence of a relationship between the two.

The U.S. fishing industry — both commercial and recreational — has numerous concerns about the impact of offshore wind on operations in places long available to fishing with minimal intervention.

Interviews with commercial and recreational fishermen and women showed that they shared common concerns about offshore wind turbines poaching species they have long relied on.

Researchers fear that electromagnetic fields emitted by underwater power cables could deter or harm some marine life. They worry about their ability to safely navigate around the turbines, and about being denied access to the productive fishing grounds they have relied on for generations.

They also worry that unforeseen consequences could reduce catches and lead to government restrictions on how much can be caught if fish stocks dwindle.

While some companies have voluntarily agreed to compensate fishermen for any economic damage, there is no mandate requiring this.

“Offshore wind is the biggest existential threat to commercial fishing in the United States right now,” Megan Lapp, fisheries coordinator for Seafreeze, a seafood company based in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, told New Jersey lawmakers at a recent hearing. .

Kudnick, the boat captain in New Jersey, worries that key species are being pushed away by changes to the ocean floor.

“Oysters, scallops, flounder and sand eels associate with the soft sand bottoms,” he said. “Striped bass, sea bass, mahogany – everything eats these eels. When they’re abundant, it’s great fishing. All of these offshore wind areas are in this prime habitat.”

Keith Cravey, president of the Raritan Bay Baymen Conservation Association in New Jersey, is concerned that power cables from the New York project coming ashore in New Jersey will be laid across the production clam beds used by his members, potentially making the areas off-limits.

“If we had to lay off 50 people because of this, would offshore wind companies pick those 50?” Asked.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Monday issued a statement on the environmental impact of the proposed Empire Wind project in New York, designed to power 700,000 homes. It determined that the project could have “moderate to significant” impacts on commercial fisheries, and “minor to moderate” impacts on recreational fishing, although minor beneficial impacts could also occur from creating artificial reefs that attract some fish.

New Jersey’s commercial fishing industry generated sales of nearly $690 million in 2020, not including imports, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. The entertainment sector generated sales of $724 million that year.

Sgro said the wind energy industry worked closely with the government and the fishing industry to address concerns, including agreeing to avoid placing turbines in areas most used by fishermen. He said a study conducted in waters off southern New England found that heat and electromagnetic fields generated by buried cables would not negatively affect important fish species in the region.

Ørsted, the developer behind two approved projects in New Jersey, said it worked hard to “avoid, minimize and mitigate” negative impacts on fishing.

The company said a seven-year study of its wind farm in Block Island, Rhode Island, found that catches of most species were not affected, and that there was a greater abundance of black sea bass and cod after construction.

The study was funded by Ørsted, designed in collaboration with local commercial fishermen and carried out by INSPIRE Environmental, which studies the ocean floor for companies and governments.

Ørsted says it will compensate boat crews for damage to or loss of equipment; Pay direct compensation to affected recreational and commercial vessels, and establish a navigational safety fund. It also plans to coordinate with state and federal authorities on seasonal operating restrictions to protect flounder and herring.

Compensations to the fishing industry have been mandated by the federal government – but are not required – for negative impacts from offshore wind. Eleven countries are considering establishing a regional fund to manage these payments.

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, supports compensation “if the industry suffers economic losses as a result of the shift to offshore wind energy.”


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