Floating 14 miles off Nantucket, its nearly 300-foot-tall cranes visible to the naked eye from the south shore, the heavy lift vessel Orion has begun work on installing the first monopiles of the Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm.
According to the company behind the first of its kind project in United States waters, a total of 62 of the foundation monopiles will be installed this summer, each spaced one nautical mile apart.
When complete, the GE Haliade-X turbines that will be attached to the monopiles will reach 837 feet in the air, each nearly as tall as the Eiffel Tower. The project will provide enough energy to power 400,000 homes in the state, according to Vineyard Wind.
To any beachgoers familiar with the fishing trawlers that frequent the waters just three miles off Nantucket's south coast this time of year, the cranes of the Orion appear only slightly smaller despite being 11 miles farther offshore.
Last month a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by a group of island residents claiming the project was approved by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other government agencies in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
"We are very disappointed, for sure," Amy DiSibio, one of Nantucket Residents Against Turbines' (ACKRATS) directors, said following the judge's decision. "The good news is that there are two other cases filed against NOAA/BOEM over the Vineyard Wind project and we are waiting on those rulings too."
Despite those pending cases, work has begun.
“We can finally say it – as of today, there is ‘steel in the water,’” said Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus S. Moeller in a press release issued Wednesday. “Over the next few months, we’ll be working hand in glove with the Building Trades and our contractors to ensure the work is done safely and efficiently."
ACKRATS' primary opposition to the project is its claim that the construction activity will negatively impact the endangered right whale, which traverse the projects waters twice yearly in their annual migration to the Caribbean and back.
An ongoing whale mortality event involving North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales has prompted a backlash against the President Joe Biden's administration's push for offshore wind energy, including the Vineyard Wind project.
While ACKRATS and other groups have questioned whether the initial survey work associated with installation of offshore wind farms along the East Coast may be causing whale 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.”
The Town of Nantucket is due to receive $16 million from Vineyard Wind for the potential historical, cultural, and economic impacts of the project after hiring a law firm Cultural Heritage Partners (CHP) to negotiate with the company to lessen the impacts to the view shed of the south shore.
“It was a runaway freight train that was going to happen regardless,” Select Board member Matt Fee said last year. “We started some of the conversations with ‘we don’t want [offshore wind farms] at all,’ but we heard back ‘well, you can try that...but you’re going to get them.’...I think (CHP) did really well.”
While the wind farm is being objected to locally, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey is in support of the project.
"Our administration is grateful for the important work being done by Vineyard Wind, Avangrid, CIP, DEME and labor partners to bring clean, affordable energy to Massachusetts,” said Governor Maura Healey. “We're thrilled to see this historic project move one step closer to completion and committed to supporting the offshore wind industry across the state."