BOSTON (SHNS) – A second group has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the government’s approval of the offshore wind project that is expected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts starting in late 2023.
A coalition of fishing industry groups called the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on Monday to review the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval of the Vineyard Wind I project, arguing that the green light “adds unacceptable risk” to the fishing industry without addressing its long-held concerns.
“This is a precedent-setting decision by BOEM, and it is critical that they get it right so that future projects are following a trusted roadmap instead of a flawed and dangerous example,” Anne Hawkins, executive director of RODA, said. “Unfortunately, this lawsuit is the only recourse fishermen have to ensure the fishing communities’ concerns are addressed.”
Without any additional detail, RODA’s lawsuit claims that the Biden administration “violated the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Administrative Procedure Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Merchant Marine Act of 1920” in approving the Vineyard Wind project earlier this year.
The 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind I is poised to be the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm and the Biden administration has shown a desire to move quickly in an attempt to ramp up to 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030.
The commercial fishing industry has been among the most vocal opponents of aspects of the Vineyard Wind I project and RODA has repeatedly urged the Biden administration to ensure the voices of the industry are heard throughout the licensing and permitting process. The organization said its main request “is to be able to continue safe operations” and that the plan approved for Vineyard Wind I “would endanger fishermen by placing turbines too close together for fishing vessels to safely navigate in inclement weather or heavy seas.”
Navigation through offshore wind lease areas has been a topic of debate throughout Vineyard Wind I’s permitting process. RODA in 2020 asked BOEM and the U.S. Coast Guard to adopt a uniform grid layout of turbines among lease areas and to require six lanes, each four nautical miles in width, through which they can travel “to preserve safe and efficient passage along the routes most often used by fishermen.”
The Coast Guard, though, determined that the best way to maintain maritime safety and ease of navigation in the offshore wind development areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket would be to adopt a layout in line with a proposal that the five developers that hold leases for offshore wind sites off New England made in 2019 to orient their turbines in fixed east-to-west rows and north-to-south columns spaced one nautical mile apart.
“The federal government must provide prudent and unbiased oversight in energy policy, carefully balancing multiple public interests,” RODA said in a statement. “Instead, BOEM has failed to sincerely consider any mitigation measures beyond those voluntarily suggested by the investment banks and multinational energy giants to which it is leasing federal lands and waters.”
Last month, a group of Nantucket residents opposed to the Vineyard Wind I project filed a federal lawsuit alleging that BOEM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration failed to comply with a federal law when assessing, disclosing, and mitigating the environmental effects of approving the 62-turbine development.
Vineyard Wind I was the first offshore wind project selected by Massachusetts utility companies with input from the Baker administration to fulfill part of a 2016 clean energy law. It is projected to generate cleaner electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in Massachusetts, produce at least 3,600 jobs, reduce costs for Massachusetts ratepayers by an estimated $1.4 billion, and eliminate 1.68 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
The 804-MW Mayflower Wind project is also under contract to deliver power to Massachusetts and initial bids are due Thursday in response to a state solicitation that seeks a project of up to 1,600 MW that can come online by the end of the decade.