We Weren't Supposed To See Vineyard Wind's Lights At Night. Here's Why We Can...For Now

Jason Graziadei •

Wind 2
The first Vineyard Wind turbine 15 miles off Nantucket. Photo by Charity Grace Mofsen

Vineyard Wind's offshore turbines are being constructed approximately 15 miles southwest of Nantucket. Each of the GE Haliade-X turbines reaches 837 feet in the air at the tip of the blade - nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower - making them clearly visible to the naked eye from the island's south shore beaches. But it's the view of the wind farm on a clear night that has some island residents surprised.

Shining on the horizon southwest of Nantucket since October are lights affixed to the tops of the five turbines that have so far been constructed, along with lights from the various vessels, including crane ships, involved with the installation. One island resident even spotted the Vineyard Wind lights from the Steamship Authority ferry as it approached Nantucket Harbor last month.

Even for some who have followed the Vineyard Wind project, it was a surprising development because the company had pledged, as part of its negotiations with the town of Nantucket to mitigate the impacts of the wind farm, to install a so-called Aircraft Detection Lighting System, or ADLS. This system will utilize radar to ensure the lights at the top of each turbine activate only when there is an aircraft in close proximity to the wind farm area.

According to the "Good Neighbor Agreement" signed by Vineyard Wind and the town of Nantucket in 2020, the company stated it agreed to install an ADLS "to reduce nighttime lighting and minimize the potential visual impacts of the Projects on the Nantucket Historical District National Historic Landmark." It also pledged to do so in all of its future planned offshore wind projects south of the island.

So why do we see the lights blinking at night right now?

“The ADLS system won’t be up and running until construction is complete," said Andrew Doba, director of communications for Vineyard Wind. "Until then, the project needs to operate the FAA lights for aviation safety. The navigation lights operate at low levels and will not be visible on shore. In short, most of what you’re seeing out there is happening as a result of construction activities and will be over once the project is complete.”

Val Oliver, the founding director of the group ACK For Whales, which is suing to stop Vineyard Wind in federal court, called the delay in making the ADLS system operational "deceitful" and emphasized that the Good Neighbor Agreement was signed without public review or input.

"It seems Vineyard Wind is already failing to meet many of the obligations they promised per this document, which was withheld from public purview when signed," Oliver told the Current. "Claiming they will 'eventually' use ADLS at the end of the project is deceitful. The projects off our shores will take 25 years to complete. Immediately following Vineyard Wind 1 construction, Park City Wind and Commonwealth Wind construction is planned. These projects will have even taller turbines. As far as we know, there is not an FAA-approved ADLS system for use on any of these projects. Unfortunately, residents lucky enough to have views of our south shore will want to close the curtains at night."

A Vineyard Wind turbine under construction southwest of Nantucket. Photo by Kit Noble

The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) is among the lead supporters of the Nantucket Nights group - which has taken on a mission of preserving the island's dark skies - but is also a signatory to the Good Neighbor Agreement. This prohibits the MMA from objecting to visual impacts of the Vineyard Wind project. It is free, however, to comment on the other offshore wind energy projects planned for areas south of Nantucket, and its recent public remarks regarding the Southcoast Wind project indicate its significant concern for the potential impacts of lighting systems of offshore wind turbines near the island.

The following is a portion of MMA executive director Joanna Roche's letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management regarding Southcoast Wind:

"No consideration has been given to the impact of the proposed project on: MMA’s historical and current use of its observatory for observation of stars and other elements of the night sky dome; MMA’s historical and current educational mission
with respect thereto; the historical and current use of numerous other locations throughout the Nantucket Historic District for observation of stars and other elements of the night sky dome; the economic impact on MMA; or the impact on MMA’s other missions regarding appreciation of the sea scape, sea life, and nature more broadly," Roche wrote. "The approach has instead been to focus exclusively on the degree to which aviation lighting on the towers is perceptible by observers in one location on shore. While important, this is a distinctly different issue from the issues identified above."

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