Wind farm, environmentalists agree on ways to protect whales

Offshore wind turbines stand near Block Island, R.I. on Aug. 15, 2016. (Michael Dwyer/AP File)
Offshore wind turbines stand near Block Island, R.I. on Aug. 15, 2016. (Michael Dwyer/AP File)

The developers of an offshore wind farm and three environmental organizations announced Monday that they have reached an agreement to further protect rare North Atlantic right whales during construction and operation of the energy-generating project.

The agreement involving Orsted and Eversource — developers of South Fork Wind off the coast of New England and New York — was signed by the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Conservation Law Foundation, the groups said in a joint statement.

The agreement promotes the development of sustainable energy while protecting wildlife, said Alison Chase, a senior policy analyst at the NRDC.

“We don’t need to choose between clean energy development and wildlife protection, and this agreement shows how we can do both," she said.

There is estimated to be fewer than 340 North Atlantic right whales remaining, according to marine scientists. They are threatened by changing prey and habitat caused by climate change, entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes.

Under Monday's agreement, South Fork Wind will adopt monitoring measures to help ensure right whales are not close to the site during active construction. South Fork Wind will also work to reduce noises made by pile driving and implement a 10-knot speed limit for project-related vessels to cut the risk of vessel strikes.

“The vessel speed restrictions and adaptive management measures agreed to by South Fork Wind will go a long way toward protecting these whales from being injured or killed by project vessels,” said Priscilla Brooks, vice president and director of ocean conservation at the Conservation Law Foundation.

South Fork Wind will also test newer technologies, such as thermal cameras and acoustic sensors that have the potential to track whale movement, gathering data that could be used in future projects.

“This agreement enhances our existing ability to protect marine life based on 30 years of experience building and operating offshore wind farms, while trialing new technologies that will further strengthen our ability to both combat the threat of climate change and build projects that coexist with our ecosystem,” said Rob Mastria, Orsted's project development director of South Fork Wind.

The South Fork Wind project will be located about 19 miles southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island, and 35 miles east of Montauk Point, New York. It’s expected to provide roughly 130 megawatts, enough power for about 70,000 homes. Its transmission system will connect to the electric grid on Long Island, New York, making it the state’s first offshore wind farm and jumpstarting the offshore wind industry there.

The project broke ground early this year and is expected to be operational late next year.

Developing offshore wind energy is a key policy of the Biden administration, which wants to wants to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 — enough electricity to power more than 10 million homes. Some in the commercial fishing industry have said planned offshore wind projects off the East Coast would make it difficult to harvest valuable seafood species, while some fear that the large turbines would kill birds.



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