U.S. Ignored Its Own Scientists In Backing Atlantic Wind Farm - The Fisherman

U.S. Ignored Its Own Scientists In Backing Atlantic Wind Farm

According to Bloomberg News, U.S. government scientists warned federal regulators how an offshore wind farm near the Rhode Island coast posed a threat to Southern New England cod, yet the Department of Interior approved the project anyway.

“The warnings were delivered in unpublished correspondence weeks before Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management authorized the 12-turbine South Fork plan in November 2021,” noted Bloomberg’s Jennifer A. Dlouhy in her December 22, 2022 report, adding “And they serve to underscore the potential ecological consequences and environmental tradeoff of a coming offshore wind boom along the US East Coast.”

Dlouhy’s article noted how the emerging wind industry is already facing mounting challenges from supply-chain struggles and surging costs, including interest rates, prompting developers behind a separate project near Massachusetts to seek a delay in planning for the venture.  Earlier this year, the Asbury Park Press reported that the New Jersey Rate Counsel, a government agency that advocates for the state’s residents before the Board of Public Utilities, expressed concerns earlier this month at a hearing on offshore wind development that added costs for materials, labor shortages and high interest rates would be shouldered by New Jersey taxpayers.

New Jersey Rate Counsel Director Brian Lipman urged the Board of Public Utilities to be cautious in its third solicitation for offshore wind projects, as two projects are already moving through the approvals process.  “Ratepayers simply cannot afford drastically higher electric bills,” he told the board. “Indeed, people already need to choose between heating their home, feeding their family or paying for medication.”

The Bloomberg News story noted how marine scientists warned that projects along the New England coast could imperil endangered North Atlantic right whales.  Last summer, the New England Fishery Management Council identified Atlantic waters already leased for offshore wind development as a “habitat area of particular concern,” a designation that encourages the government to take a more stringent and cautious approach to permitting.

“Ecological challenges represent another headwind for offshore wind,” Dlouhy wrote for Bloomberg, adding “Although conservationists argue that building more emission-free renewable power is critical to combat climate change and bolster dwindling ocean species threatened by warming oceans, the short-term impacts on marine life can be significant.”

In an October 2021 letter to Interior Department officials, based on in-house expertise and peer-reviewed science, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assistant regional administrator said “this project (South Fork by Orsted) has a high risk of population-level impacts on Southern New England Atlantic cod.”

According to Dlouhy, NOAA Fisheries faulted the Interior Department for “shrugging off other recommendations to protect cod, saying the bureau had based some decisions on flawed assumptions not supported by science.”   According to the Bloomberg News story a spokesperson for Orsted declined to comment.

Ecological impacts to the industrial wind projects proposed along the Atlantic Coast have been reported in other recent research findings as well.  In a November, 2022 scientific journal titled Offshore Wind Farms Are Projected To Impact Primary Production And Bottom Water Deoxygenation In The North Sea (Daewel, Akhtar, Christiansen & Schrum) researchers said that little is known about the ecosystem response to wind wakes surrounding large offshore wind farm clusters.

“Our results provide evidence that the ongoing offshore wind farm developments can have a substantial impact on the structuring of coastal marine ecosystems on basin scales,” the researchers noted.