Elizabeth Turnbull Henry
President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, which founded the New England for Offshore Wind Coalition; Concord resident
Our dependence on fossil fuels is driving a climate crisis and pushing ecosystems towards collapse. We must change how we power our lives. For New England, responsibly developed offshore wind is the single biggest lever we can pull. A vibrant offshore wind industry would also benefit our economy, workforce, and anyone who pays an energy bill. Offshore wind can coexist with marine habitats, fishing, and the other ocean uses we value.
New England has some of the most powerful offshore wind in the Unites States. We have enough to power our economy 10 times over. Our offshore wind blows hard — and is most consistent in the winter when energy is in greatest demand. Once built, offshore wind could directly displace natural gas and oil.
Offshore wind is 80 percent cheaper than a decade ago. Costs continue to fall and turbine performance and potential output continue to grow. Today, the Vineyard Wind 1 and Mayflower Wind projects are forecast to save Massachusetts ratepayers $3.8 billion. For families choosing between paying utility bills and putting food on the table, these are welcome savings.
We make very little energy in New England. If we made more, it would be better for our economy. Massachusetts spends $27 billion on energy of which $18 billion leaves the state, mostly to buy fossil fuels. Offshore wind can drive a virtuous cycle of energy independence and reinvestment in local economies. For communities hit hard by unemployment and COVID-19, offshore wind could create tens of thousands of jobs and power economic revitalization.
Climate change is a far graver threat to wildlife, ecosystems, and fisheries than offshore wind. Turbines are not without impacts, but they can be sited and developed responsibly. For example, scientists, advocates, and developers penned a landmark agreement ensuring whales can migrate safely through the Vineyard 1 project. Developers are detecting, deterring, and monitoring birds and bats. Fishermen, developers, and government agencies are working through how to trawl, drag, and fish in the offshore wind lease areas, which represent only a fraction of our vast Atlantic fishing grounds.
Massachusetts may face hard choices related to climate change, but building more offshore wind isn’t one of them.
Research director, Responsible Offshore Development Alliance; West Bridgewater resident
Lost in the rapid adoption of green energy in New England is our limited knowledge of the long-term ecological consequences of offshore wind. A scientific journal report discovered only 11 peer-reviewed studies analyzing impacts to fish stocks from offshore wind. Also urgently needed is more information on noise impacts to marine mammals from the pile-driving involved in offshore wind construction, and how to mitigate any impacts. And I believe we need more evidence turbines can be decommissioned in environmentally friendly ways.
The federal analysis for the Vineyard Wind project concluded that the 2,000 turbines currently planned for the US Atlantic would cumulatively offer minor benefits to fighting climate change, but pose moderate adverse impacts on coastal fauna and major impacts to the fisheries industry. Yet states are asking the public to prioritize, subsidize, and support this “green” energy over other ocean uses to mitigate climate change.
Hastily planned offshore wind projects may induce large-scale oceanographic and atmospheric changes. There are already 1,400 square miles leased in waters south of Martha’s Vineyard — an enormous project area that makes this a very large experiment. Scientists understand very little about what the outcomes could be, but some have expressed concern over potential effects on ocean and nutrient mixing. Climate Action Network recently wrote to the European Parliament that there are “uncertainties with regards to the [ecological] impact of the larger scale development of future wind farms” needing to be addressed.
Fishermen want answers before construction commences, and Responsible Offshore Development Alliance is working hard to find them by leading a “Synthesis of the Science” project to fill these knowledge gaps. Massachusetts and wind developers do support studies but these need to be expanded and integrated. That takes significant time, resources, and collaboration. Let’s prioritize research so we know how to mitigate environmental impacts before rushing to meet arbitrary power goals.
The Commonwealth has a long history of implementing progressive ideas that help move the country forward. We strongly encourage Massachusetts to consider the full impacts of this new energy source and its lasting impact on our oceans and ask that a “burden of proof” be met before adding more risk.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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