Editor’s Log: Is This Really A Victory? - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Is This Really A Victory?

It was New Year’s Day when I first saw them. We had my mom down to welcome the New Year, and on that sunny and unseasonably warm January 1st, we decided to drive to the beach to start the year off on the right foot. As I stood looking out over an expanse of ocean that I know better than the floor plan of my own house, I noticed a few things that weren’t there before. As my eyes strained to see through the rising sea smoke, I saw towers and I saw movement—my brain filled in the rest. These were the first few turbines in the South Fork Wind project. A week or two later, I found myself making the ride to Sakonnet Point, here the turbines stand tall enough to take up about a quarter of my field of vision. An iconic scene of Rhode Island’s history, changed forever. The pillars of the West Island Bass Club now stand in the shadow of offshore wind. Sakonnet, a Wampanoag word that roughly translates to ‘place of the black goose’ – home to thousands of years of human history, is now marred by the arrogance of human progress.

Driving along the local roads in any coastal town across southern New England you’ll see the yard signs “Keep It Wild” and “Save Our Sea”, two phrases associated with opposition to offshore wind. The signs offering support simply read “Yes” with an image of a wind turbine, its massive blades oriented to form the Y at the beginning of the word. My issue is not that someone might disagree with my personal stance regarding offshore wind, the issue I see at the heart of all of this is that we – the public as a faceless entity – have politicized this issue, muddying the consumption of fact. While also furthering this new agenda that we must offer blanket support for the political party of our choosing and never hold them accountable for anything. We must never admit that ‘our team’ could do anything wrong or make a wrong decision and furthermore, we must passionately believe that the ‘other team’ is always wrong. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s working.

Offshore wind sounds like a good idea, it does! But it has been spun to ‘sell’ it to the public. I was in full support of it before I started researching it. If you don’t believe that we’ve been lied to, just take into account the fact that – early on – we were ‘sold’ the idea that since the turbines would be situated more than 10 miles offshore and the human eye can only see three miles to horizon that we wouldn’t be able to see them… the important fact that was omitted (or perhaps strategically [redacted]) is that the turbines are over 900 feet tall and would not be subject to horizon obstruction. In fact, even if the turbines were 30 miles offshore, the horizon obstruction is still only about 480 feet above sea level, leaving roughly half of the average turbine visible on a clear day.

But it’s not seeing them that I find so offensive, it’s the fact that we were lied to about what we would see and the precedent that sets for all of the other supposed truths we’re being told. There are so many other frightening facts that just haven’t been part of the conversation led by Ørsted or BOEM, you have to go and look for them, and when the not-so-great facts about a sensitive issue like this one aren’t being freely offered, it’s a cause for alarm.

For example, did you know that for every 20 to 50 offshore turbines (it varies by project), there must also be an offshore substation to collect the generated electricity? These facilities will use sea water to cool their mechanisms. Each substation will pump an average of 10,000,000 gallons of sea water per day, treat it heavily with chlorine, heat it to temperatures as high as 90 degrees and then discharge that water back into the ocean—that’s more than 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools, every day. Using Mayflower Wind as an example, they’re proposing 147 turbines with five substations or, roughly one substation per 30 turbines. If we extrapolate that out to the roughly 1000 turbines currently planned throughout New England waters, that’s 33 substations and more than 333 MILLION GALLONS of heated and heavily chlorinated water pumped into the Atlantic, daily… 2.3 BILLION gallons per week and just under 120 TRILLION gallons per year. That can’t be good.

Then we come to marine mammals. If you read comments from offshore wind supporters online they often say things like, “Why do we all suddenly care so much about whales”? Listen, I’m not signing myself up for the next voyage on the Sea Shepherd, but it’s pretty hard to ignore the huge spike in whale deaths that have coincided with offshore wind bottom surveys and turbine installations. Or how about the fact that over 18 years of obsessive beach fishing from 2002 to 2020, I found one dead dolphin on the beach. Since 2020 I have personally found seven dead dolphins, most of them babies. And there have been dozens of whales washing up from New Jersey to Nantucket in that same timeframe, something that was quite rare before all this wind stuff began. The supporters say the whale death myths have been debunked, but if that’s true then why has NOAA issued nearly 800 ‘Incidental Take Authorizations’ (ITA) to the various offshore wind developers? An ITA is basically a license to “harass” and accidentally harm or kill endangered marine mammals without consequence. Beyond that, if these actions are killing massive animals like whales, what must these same procedures be doing to smaller animals like codfish or tautog?

These are just the highlights, there are many, many more reasons to be skeptical of offshore wind. Perhaps one of the most perplexing things about this whole movement is that both NOAA and BOEM have said that the impacts on climate change will be negligible. And that the goal of freeing ourselves from reliance on fossil fuels is a pipe dream because, without a massive system of batteries for energy storage (something that is not part of the current plan), we will still need to have all the same power plants operating as a failsafe, in case it’s not windy or in case something goes wrong. Beyond all that, these turbines have a 25 year lifespan and then have to be dismantled and decommissioned, their 115- to 350-foot non-recyclable blades will have to be stored in massive turbine graveyards for… centuries? Millennia? Who knows?

I want to be free of our reliance on fossil fuels too, but not at the expense of the industrializing and compromising the last great wilderness left in our country. Is this really a victory? Maybe for foreign wind developers, but it’s not a victory for the mighty Atlantic or the fish species that have become synonymous with New England over the last 400 years (and before). And if you love the ocean and you love fishing, it’s no victory for you either.

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