Cape Cod Offshore Wind Moves Ahead — Despite Controversy

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Fierce opponents of Cape Cod offshore wind have held their ground over decades. But, remarkably, the project is now underway for a 35-mile offshore transmission cable serving Vineyard Wind. The 62 turbine project planned in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard will connect with Cape Cod’s center south shore in Barnstable.

What changed?

Barnstable community residents were initially reluctant to accept a 220-kilovolt line landing in their town. Would safety concerns arise? Would property values be affected? Would the already stop-and-go summer traffic worsen?

It took extensive public outreach — lots of hours of 1-to-1 question-and-answer sessions from Vineyard Wind — to soothe community concerns. A $16 million payment to the town didn’t hurt, either.

Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution! Vineyard Wind is a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of AVANGRID, Inc. and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP). Vineyard Wind 1 is described as the nation’s first commercial scale offshore wind farm. The project will utilize 62, 13MW General Electric Haliade-X wind turbines that will be connected to an offshore substation. That power will be transferred to two export cables that will make landfall at Covell’s beach and intersect with the grid at an inland substation.

The company says that the 800-megawatt (MW) project, located 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, will generate electricity for more than 400,000 homes and businesses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, create 3,600 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) job years, save customers $1.4 billion over the first 20 years of operation, and is expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million metric tons per year — the equivalent of taking 325,000 cars off the road annually.

What Vineyard Wind did Differently

Cape Cod is a popular summer destination. With delicate sand beaches and low surf from Nantucket Sound, (primarily white) families have traveled to the Cape for over a century to bask in the sun, loll in the waves, eat lobster, and watch the sunset.

Somehow, the idyllic scene seemed to clash with a vision of wind turbines spinning in the offshore distance. More precisely, a whole slew of vocal residents balked at the idea of offshore wind turbines changing the view from their summer homes. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was one of those opponents: he fought Cape Cod offshore wind from his Hyannis Port compound when the idea first surfaced.

Of course, as with many renewable energy projects, the Vineyard Wind project has experienced opposition. Lawsuits seeking to halt the project have been filed by commercial fishers, a group concerned about the plight of the North American right whale, and a solar developer with a second home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Planning the transmission cable’s landing was challenging from the onset. Vineyard Wind deleted plans for landing the cable in another central Cape Cod town, Yarmouth, after community tensions seemed insurmountable.

Vineyard Wind set up a get-to-know-us tent at the Barnstable beach so a handy, friendly public face of the company could be available to answer residents’ questions. The company also sent reps around neighborhoods as a 1-to-1 opportunity to talk to community members who had questions. The time to assuage community concerns took a lot of work, and it paid off.

The Association to Preserve Cape Cod, one of the region’s leading environmental organizations, backed Vineyard Wind for its mission to reduce  greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. The approach the developer took to interact with community members about the project’s impacts helped, too.

In 2021, local Barnstable officials signed on with Vineyard Wind, a crucial step of local siting agreements — one of the biggest challenges facing renewable energy development. Soon afterward, they welcomed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R), and Vineyard Wind representatives to the ocean’s edge for a groundbreaking ceremony at Covell’s Beach in Barnstable, the site where two cables will make landfall and begin their journey to produce electricity on Cape Cod. Through horizontal drilling under the beach, the offshore transmission cable will connect with an onshore line running more than 5 miles to a substation inland.

“Barnstable took the jump, and we took the chance,” said Matthew Levesque, president of the Barnstable Town Council, told E&E News. “This is a very special day, and it draws a line in the sand, marking a new beginning, literally.”

The Vineyard Wind project in Barnstable continues on into summer, 2022. As a result of the cable laying, the Town of Barnstable and Vineyard Wind are collaborating on a long-awaited sewer improvement project, saving the town millions of dollars. Side benefits to the town thus far have included:

  • digging up the streets and allowing wires and sewer lines to be installed concurrently
  • replacing a town parking lot and bathhouse at the beach
  • paying costs to open up the roadway to install the underground onshore transmission cable, which allows Barnstable to initiate a wastewater system update

Under the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with the Southeast Massachusetts Building Trades, the work being done on site is using local union labor. The PLA ensures that at least 500 of the jobs created during the construction phase of the project will be filled by local tradespeople and includes aggressive hiring targets for women and black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).

Research into environmental impacts continues on behind the scenes. Vineyard Wind has embarked on a multi-year collaboration with the University of New Hampshire to deploy a Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) device to record ambient sound and marine mammal species vocalizations in the lease area. The monitoring device will record underwater sound a minimum of 30 days before the start of offshore construction and will remain active through at least 3 years of operations and maintenance (O&M).

Final Thoughts about Cape Cod Offshore Wind

If all goes according to plan, Massachusetts will start getting power from wind turbines some 35 miles off the coast for the first time. In offshore wind, which is well-established overseas but just starting to get off the ground in the US, “it’s a huge challenge,” Jennifer Cullen, senior manager of labor relations and workforce development at Vineyard Wind, told Marketplace. Many electricians and iron workers from local trade unions are hoping to get hired to help build Vineyard Wind.

The success of the Vineyard Wind 1 project has the potential to open up public perception to other renewable energy projects. Like Massachusetts, states around the US are treading gently but methodically to help communities move to clean energy.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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