The group known as Nantucket Residents Against Turbines (ACKRATs) has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt construction of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm planned for an area 15 miles southwest of the island. The lawsuit alleges that the construction and operation of the wind farm will threaten the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale, driving the species from its preferred habitat into more dangerous waters.
“By installing multiple industrial-scale wind energy projects in this area, BOEM (U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) is literally putting right whales and humans on a collision course,” the lawsuit states. “And historically, that has not worked out well for the whale.”
Proponents of the wind farm argue that there is no scientific evidence that it will significantly impact right whale populations and point to the fact that the project has already cleared the United States’ lengthy federal environmental review process.
“ACKRATs is adamant that turbines are going to kill right whales with basically no evidence. They have nothing to back that up,” said Nantucket conservationist and offshore wind advocate Blair Perkins. “There is a temporary displacement of [whales]...and then everything returns to normal.”
However, ACKRATs worries that even a temporary displacement could be dangerous to right whales, increasing the chances that they would be struck by ships or entangled in fishing lines. Neither side contests that the loud construction process of the wind farm, which involves extensive pile-driving on the ocean floor, will push the whales away from a portion of their current feeding grounds while the farm is being installed, but ACKRATs goes further.
In their lawsuit, ACKRATs says that Vineyard Wind will be installing buoy ropes and traps throughout the wind farm to monitor the impact of the installation on local fisheries, which could exacerbate the risk of right whales being entangled in lines. ACKRATs is also critical of the huge number of ships required to construct the wind farm.
“Construction of the Vineyard Wind project will involve hundreds of vessels transiting back and forth between the [wind farm] and supply ports in Massachusetts and Canada,” ACKRATs motion reads in part. “All told, these vessels will spend tens of thousands of hours traveling through right whale habitat, many of them at speeds high enough to kill a right whale if struck.”
The $3 billion Vineyard Wind project is a joint venture of Avangrid Renewables and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners. Its turbines would be manufactured by General Electric, and the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal will be the primary staging area and deployment base for the project. It would be the first commercial scale offshore wind farm construction in the United States, capable of generating enough power for at least 400,000 homes.
“These initial massive wind power plants are to be constructed in a critical migration route and habitat for the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale,” added ACKRATs’ president Val Oliver. “It is obvious that pile driving and the associated large, fast-moving vessels in the whales’ habitat will be harmful.”
Vineyard Wind does not comment on ongoing litigation but has previously asserted they will have lookouts and acoustic monitoring in place to ensure their boats don’t strike any whales. They have also outlined strategies to ensure that their buoy lines and fishery monitoring strategies are safe. But ACKRATs believes those strategies to be deficient, outlining what they see as numerous gaps and oversights in Vineyard Wind’s plans throughout their 58-page motion for summary judgment filed in the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.
“I think right whales need to be protected,” said Perkins. “It’s admirable that they are concerned...but I don’t think they are educated as much as they need to be.”
Perkins, an outspoken advocate for whale protection, points out that reducing fossil fuel use is essential for whales’ long-term survival. “Right whales are breathing the same air that we breathe, and there is an imperative need for clean air,” he said. “All these different renewable energies need to be added to our grid.”
Dylan Fernandes, Nantucket’s Representative in the Massachusetts State House who has long been a proponent of Vineyard Wind’s proposal, joined Perkins and other renewable energy advocates.
“Nantucketers overwhelmingly support the offshore wind projects,” he said in a prepared statement. “A small handful of green energy opponents do not represent the views of islanders and their misguided lawsuit will only further harm marine ecosystems that are being ravaged by the impacts of the climate crisis.”
ACKRATs claims that they are animal rights advocates, not green energy opponents. “Everyone wants clean, renewable and reliable energy, unfortunately, wind only meets one of those metrics and fails miserably on the other two,” Oliver said. “Massive offshore wind installations will demand the industrialization and disruption of a pristine natural environment.”
Perkins went as far as to suggest that the proposed wind farm could benefit right whales. “I feel very strongly that with a wind farm out there, we will actually see a decrease in entanglement and ship strikes because the area will be much less trafficked by ships that can kill [right whales],” he said. “I will dare say that wind farms will actually be a whale sanctuary.”