BOSTON – Location, location, location.
As federal and state officials enthusiastically pursue a rapid and significant deployment of offshore wind turbines to generate cleaner energy along the east coast, scientists and advocates on Wednesday unveiled a new mapping tool designed to give developers , regulators and the public a better idea of the natural resources below the surface in the vicinity of the proposed wind projects.
Last year, the US offshore wind pipeline grew 24% with more than 35,000 megawatts currently in various stages of development, the US Department of Energy said in its latest Offshore Wind Market report. Massachusetts has authorized up to 5,600 MW and has so far contracted for approximately 1,600 MW of offshore wind power. But even before the installation of the first turbine, the industry faces headwinds from two federal lawsuits focused on protecting endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale and commercial fishing interests.
The marine mapping tool deployed by The Nature Conservancy on Wednesday covers the coast from Maine to North Carolina and includes information on the composition of the seabed, fish and invertebrates that live near the ocean floor in an area given, the marine mammals that frequent a select swathe of the ocean, the bird species that are known to be in the area and more. The tool allows a user to compare data from different times of the year and also incorporates historical data.
“We want to make sure that renewable energy developers and regulators can meet our collective renewable energy goals in a way that protects and improves the environment as well. We know that as we move towards our important climate goals, offshore wind must and can be built so natural habitats and sensitive species can be built, ”said Deb Markowitz, state director of TNC in Massachusetts. “Anyone from wind power developers to journalists can use this mapping tool to find out what species live in the neighborhood where a project is being proposed. As the demand for offshore wind power increases, the location of wind turbines will become a critical factor. “
Vineyard Wind Zone
The tool allows a user to examine multiple offshore wind concession areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. For example, the concession area owned by Vineyard Wind is home to 19 species of groundfish, which is roughly the average for this region of the coast. Seven species – white skate, scup, window pane, little skate, winter skate, winter skate, and black bass – have been “seen persistently at very high levels” in the region.
The concession area also has an average concentration of marine mammals, according to the TNC tool, and “has potential for conflict” – with harbor porpoises and right whales in the North Atlantic.
Vineyard Wind agreed in 2019 on various measures to protect whales, including reducing turbine construction in winter and early spring when North Atlantic right whales are more often in the area, monitoring the construction zone to ensure whales are not near the site, dampen construction noise that may disturb whales, and invest $ 3 million to develop and deploy technologies that help protect whales.
In August, a group opposed to the Vineyard Wind I project set to go live in 2023, Nantucket Residents Against Turbines, filed a federal complaint to stop its construction, arguing that several federal agencies had violated laws to protect species. threatened like the right whale. .
Mayflower Wind Zone
The concession area that plans to host the Mayflower Wind project, which is slated to be commissioned in 2025, is home to 20 species of groundfish – barndoor ray, scup, red hake, glass, four-point flounder, small ray, plaice. summer, black bass, spotted hake, goosefish, and silver hake – which TNC tools say is “much more” than the rest of the region.
The concession area is home to fewer forage fish species compared to the rest of the ocean in this region and, like the Vineyard Wind concession area, sees “significantly more” bird species than other areas. off, according to the TNC tool.
TNC scientists who demonstrated the tool on Wednesday morning said they did not create it to highlight areas that would necessarily be better or worse than others for offshore wind developments, but rather to give developers who are considering a particular area a better idea of what to watch out for.
“What we’ve tried to do is provide you with all the information so that as a user, the same way you do with Zillow, you get all the information and you make an informed decision. We don’t make decisions for you, ”Marta Ribera, a space ecologist at The Nature Conservancy who worked on the mapping tool, said. “We see this as a decision support tool. So we are just trying to provide information so that you as a user feel empowered to make those decisions about the ocean and start exploring why our blue surface is actually much more interesting than a simple perfectly homogeneous blue surface. “