Representatives from SouthCoast Wind, one of the fledging companies seeking to build an offshore wind farm in the federal waters southwest of Nantucket, were on the island Wednesday pitching their project to local residents and the Select Board.
They got an early glimpse of how the day would go when a woman dressed in a full-body whale costume walked in the door of their information session at the town meeting trailer on Pleasant Street. She was holding a sign that said "Save Me."
The woman was Mary Chalke, a Madaket resident who is part of the Save Right Whales Coalition. She attended the meetings with SouthCoast Wind on Wednesday to ask questions and air concerns about the potential impacts of offshore wind projects on the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale. And she was not alone.
Chalke and others - including charter boat captains, senior citizens, seasonal residents, and elected officials - all peppered the SouthCoast Wind officials with questions about the potential impacts of the turbines. And just about everything was on the table: the views from shore, the potential harm to right whales by the geotechnical surveying associated with the wind farms, economic impacts and the potential loss of tourism, how the construction could impact supplies of plankton or affect currents, and even the potential for mutated lobsters.
"Opposition is growing," Chalke said. "There are 12 New Jersey mayors, because of the whale deaths and the beaching of whales, who have written a letter demanding the offshore wind activity stop until the cause of death is properly investigated...I don’ buy there is nothing we can do but roll over and negotiate for money. Please fight for Nantucket."
Chalke was referring to a ongoing whale mortality event, in which 23 humpback whales have washed up dead along New Jersey since 2016, with three in January alone.
While some have questioned whether the initial survey work associated with the wind turbines may be causing the deaths - and even called on President Biden to launch an investigation - NOAA Fisheries recently stated that “there are no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys for offshore wind development.”
SouthCoast Wind's proposed offshore wind farm is slated for an area approximately 20 nautical miles south of Nantucket, and is one of numerous swaths of federal waters that have been carved up and auctioned off. The Vineyard Wind project is the farthest along at this point.
SouthCoast Wind believes the offshore lease area has the potential to generate over 2,400 megawatts (MW), or enough to power over 1 million homes. The project would occupy a 199-square mile area, which was awarded through a competitive auction by the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The 149 wind turbines would transfer power through two cables making landfall at connection points at the Brayton Point/Somerset area of Buzzards Bay, and in Falmouth.
Island seasonal resident Amy DiSibio also spoke to the Select Board last night, stating she drove all the way from New Jersey to have her voice be heard and express her reservations about the project.
"What’s unfortunate is that the public on Nantucket is largely unaware of any of these wind projects," DiSibio said. "One of these problems is that when they come to speak in February, there’s no summer residents and many of the local residents are gone. For this project to be transparent. We need to do a better job."
Others were focused on the combined impacts of SouthCoast Wind, Vineyard Wind, and the six other wind energy companies preparing similar projects.
"Our biggest issue here is you're not a standalone project," said Val Oliver, the founding director of Nantucket Residents Against Turbines, or ACKRATS. "By the time the projects are side by side they will encompass the area of Rhode Island. And each one is starting at a different time. We will literally be in construction for all of those 33 years. By the time you guys are decommissioning, someone else is just finishing construction...It's the cumulative impacts. We're the ones bearing all the costs and the electricity is going to the mainland."
Last year, the town of Nantucket negotiated to receive $16 million in restitution for the potential historical, cultural, and economic impacts of Vineyard Wind’s offshore wind farm slated for installation south of the island later this year. Cultural Heritage Partners (CHP), the law firm hired by the Town to negotiate on offshore wind projects, secured this remediation as part of a lengthy dialogue with Vineyard Wind. Similar discussions with SouthCoast Wind have just begun.
Watch the meeting below: