By Ivette Feliciano

Sam Weber

 

Ivette Feliciano: For more than two centuries, New Bedford’s economy has been deeply tied to the ocean. First as the epicenter of the whaling industry in the 19th century, and today as the largest fishing port in the United States, by value of the catch landed here.

 

Jon Mitchell, Mayor of New Bedford, MA: Fishing will always be important to us. But at the same time, we know that there's room for more here in the Port of New Bedford and there's more room for more out on the open ocean.

 

Ivette Feliciano: Jon Mitchell is the mayor of New Bedford, and he has been positioning this coastal Massachusetts city, and its port, to be the center of the burgeoning offshore wind industry in the US.

 

Jon Mitchell: We here in New Bedford see it as a generational opportunity to attract investment. We're really good at what we do on the water. And we want to parlay those skills and the infrastructure into offshore wind and other maritime industries that allow us to continue to grow and create jobs. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: Given its strong winds, relatively shallow water, and proximity to major cities, scientists have long seen the US’s east coast as an ideal place for siting offshore wind projects. Back in 2009, then-Vice President Biden heralded new federal guidelines to help spur the industry.

 

Vice-President Joe Biden (May 2009): These final rules are going to enable Delaware and enable the nation to tap into our ocean’s vast, vast sustainable resources. To generate clean energy in an environmentally sound and safe manner.

 

Ivette Feliciano: But flash forward to today, more than a decade later, and there are only two small projects - 7 wind turbines in total - in operation. But that could soon change. 

 

President Joe Biden: First order I’m signing is tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: In one of his first acts as President, Joe Biden signed an executive order directing his Administration to increase renewable energy production on public lands and offshore waters.

 

About a month later, the lead federal agency regulating offshore wind published its final environmental impact statement for Vineyard Wind, the first large scale wind project in the US off the coast of Massachusetts. Now in its final stages of approval, the project would generate enough power for about 400 thousand homes.

 

Lars Pedersen is the CEO of Vineyard Wind, which is a joint venture between Copenhagen Investment Partners and electric utility, Avangrid.

 

Lars Pedersen: For us in this industry it is about two things clean and affordable energy, but it's also about economic development. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: I sat down with him at the New Bedford Commerce Marine Terminal, which is the only  facility in the US specifically designed for staging large offshore wind projects.

 

Lars Pedersen: There will be hundreds of people working here, moving big components, operating cranes, testing electrical equipment. Offshore, people living 14 days on, 14 days off on vessels. For this project there will be more than two thousand jobs that will be created during the construction and we will create a similar amount of jobs during the operation.

 

Ivette Feliciano: But getting to this point has been a long road. Vineyard first leased these 260 square miles of ocean back in 2015, spent millions surveying the area, and applied to federal regulators for a permit in 2017. Two years later, the process was paused as regulators decided to look at the cumulative impact of Vineyard, and several other projects planned in the same area.

 

All together, there are more than a dozen leases in various stages of development up and down the east coast. and industry groups estimate that between 20 and 30 thousand megawatts of offshore wind - or enough to power more than 12 million homes - will be operational by 2030. 

 

While the US has not yet approved a major project, in Europe, offshore wind has grown exponentially in the last 15 years, with more than 40 commercial scale projects now operating. 

 

Lars Pedersen: I've been fortunate to be part of when this industry matured in Europe and seeing it from a small sort of technology oriented niche industry to what it is today, the mainstay of Northern Europe's clean energy revolution. And I think we will see exactly the same happen here. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: The US's relative late start does mean that projects are able to incorporate new technology. Vineyard will be the first to use a new turbine made by GE that stands more than 850 feet tall, with each of its three blades stretching more than the length of a football field.

 

Lars Pedersen: Every time the blade spins twice, you can power a home for a day. So it's really impressive hardware. So we have been able to shrink the footprint of the project from 108 positions down to 62 while still producing the power we have promised to Massachusetts.

 

Ivette Feliciano: It’s here on a beach on Cape Cod that buried cables carrying power from the Vineyard Wind Project will come ashore underneath this beach and be connected to the New England Electricity Grid. But the actual turbines, which will be about 35 miles out in the ocean will be almost invisible from here. 

 

But while the Vineyard Wind project has not faced the local opposition of earlier projects like Cape Wind, which was famously opposed by residents like former Senator Ted Kennedy, that doesn’t mean that everyone is on board. 

 

Eric Hansen, commercial scalloper: There are a lot of questions that should be answered before these structures go in the water. And I think it's been fast-tracked and pushed in in the name of green energy.

 

Ivette Feliciano: Eric Hansen is a fourth generation fisherman based in New Bedford. He owns two boats, which travel up and down the east coast to reach regulated stocks of scallops. While Vineyard Wind is not in an area he fishes, Hansen is concerned the turbines will create a navigational hazard. 

 

Eric Hansen: When you get bad weather or heavy fog, and then if you throw a boat in there that's moving through besides yourself, to try and pick out the fixed target to the ball from the moving target on the radar screen will be next to impossible. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: About 40 miles down the coast in Point Judith, Rhode Island, fisherman Christopher Brown is concerned how Vineyard Wind, and the cumulative impact of future offshore wind projects, will affect fisheries, including the whiting, squid, and flounders he fishes for. 

 

Christopher Brown: We're afraid that it's going to displace more boats into less ocean. That will increase the impacts on the bottom and the stocks. We don't know what it's going to do to systemic productivity. We have hoped for a precautionary approach, but that kind of looks like it's going out the window.

 

Ivette Feliciano: Brown, who also serves as president of the Seafood Harvesters of America, says his opposition to Vineyard Wind does not mean he’s opposed to renewable energy. 

 

Christopher Brown: You know, we believe in climate change. The ocean is changing faster in New England than anywhere on the planet.

 

Ivette Feliciano: You're out there on the water. What is your experience of climate change?  

 

Christopher Brown: We see traditional species of fish are no longer available. We see new species of fish that I've never seen in my life. I tell people all the time the ocean I fish in right now is not my grandfather's ocean. You know, much like there's no atheists in foxholes, you know, there are no climate change deniers in the commercial fishing industry. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: Back in New Bedford, Mayor Jon Mitchell sees part of his role as mediating between commercial fishing interests and offshore wind developers.

 

Jon Mitchell: We've tried to do our job here in New Bedford as a place that has a certain level of expertise around commercial fishing, to get the offshore wind industry to understand the needs of the fishing industry and how they can be readily accommodated by offshore wind. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: Opponents argue that vinyard wind has not done enough to mitigate the potential impact and that there haven't been enough independent studies to sort of review to show that the promised benefits outweigh the potential harm to fishermen and ocean habitat and navigation. So what is your response to that?  

 

Lars Pedersen: Yeah, I don't agree with, with phrasing it in that way. I don't think there are many energy projects or projects for that sake in the US that have undergone the review that this project has gone. We have had 400 plus public meetings and hearings about the project. We have had thousands and thousands of staff hours into outreach with commercial fishing.

 

Ivette Feliciano: Pedersen also points out that throughout the regulatory process, Vineyard Wind has made changes, including agreeing to expand the distance between turbines and to change their orientation to make Vineyard and future projects nearby more uniform and easy to navigate. Vineyard Wind is also funding ongoing studies of local fisheries, and agreed to compensate fishermen who show they have a financial loss because of the project.

 

But for New Bedford scalloper Eric Hansen, the mitigations offered and the lengthy regulatory process does not mean developers like Vineyard Wind are taking the concerns of fishermen into account.

 

Eric Hansen: Somebody will say, well, will you listen to the fisherman? But that's all it is. It's just a checkbox. They listened. Whether they act on it or not, that's something that's debatable. You have to remember seafood is a renewable resource also, and to displace one renewable resource, which has been proven over centuries with another that has been proven for the last 10 or 20 years. I think should be looked at in a different light.

 

Lars Pedersen: We understand that it's a new industry. We understand some of the concerns. But this has been an extremely thorough review. Our ultimate goal is to coexist. And therefore, we think it's very important that we now get to the stage where we actually build something and then we can see in real life the impacts. 

 

Ivette Feliciano: With a final decision from federal regulators expected within weeks, Vineyard Wind hopes to start construction this fall, with an aim of actually generating energy by 2023.

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TIMECODE

LOWER THIRD

1

00:52

MAYOR JON MITCHELL

NEW BEDFORD, MA

2

01:13

(TOP) UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE

(BOTTOM) MAY 2009

NEWARK, DE

3

01:42

JAN. 27

WASHINGTON, DC

4

02:42

MASSCEC / BIG OCEAN STUDIOS

5

02:54

LARS PEDERSEN

VINEYARD WIND

6

04:24

GE RENEWABLES

7

04:46

LARS PEDERSEN

VINEYARD WIND

8

04:54

BARNSTABLE, MA

IVETTE FELICIANO

@IVETTEF_NEWS

9

07:12

CHRISTOPHER BROWN

COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN

10

07:15

CHRISTOPHER BROWN

PRESIDENT, SEAFOOD HARVESTERS OF AMERICA

11

07:52

MAYOR JON MITCHELL

NEW BEDFORD, MA

12

09:36

ERIC HANSEN

COMMERCIAL SCALLOP FISHERMAN

13

09:53

LARS PEDERSEN

VINEYARD WIND

 

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