Blowing in the wind
American commercial fisheries are feeling increasingly beleaguered. On top of being plagued for the last four years by the adverse catch-share system, they had been hurt by the mega-spill of oil in the Mexican Bay, severely injured by the recent hurricane Sandy and struggled, evidently in vain, to obtain their share in the related federal damages.
The way the wind blows
Recently, East Coast fishermen have been alarmed by a new threat: the plan for a gargantuan network of offshore wind-power farms, steps hard on their fishing tows. For example, two hundred 150-180m tall wind turbines are projected to be erected on lease sites overlapping spawning and fishing grounds of several commercial species.
The lease area covers 164,750 acres (666.7km2) and is located south of the Rhode Island coastline. The area will be auctioned as two leases, referred to as the North Zone and South Zone. The North Zone of about 97,500 acres, (394.7km2), has the capacity to support more than 1,000MW of wind generation. The South Zone of about 67,250 acres (272.1km2), is capable of supporting a project of between 350-1,000MW. Together, these zones should power 700,000 homes.
It seems that the fishing industry is facing a hard uphill struggle against the marine fraction of the national campaign for clean energy advancing under the umbrella of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). All the more that the planned development seems attractive to several other direct and secondary shareholders. For example, according to New Bedford Standard Times, John Mitchell, the mayor of New Bedford, one of the main American fishing ports, views the Cape Wind project with its offshore wind turbines as a development opportunity also as generating a much larger development of industries all along the New England's coast with New Bedford as the hub. "Our goal ultimately is to maximise job opportunities for folks living in the city of New Bedford", he said. When one looks at the investment scope, with a quoted price of just one wind turbine ranging from US$2-4m plus installation costs offshore, the initial investment in the installation of the 200 planned turbines will probably cross the 1/2 billion of US$. With the consequent maintenance and other services added no wonder that some leaders would weigh the potential benefits to their communities against the existing, hard pressed and consequently shrinking local fisheries, for which it may become an ill wind that blows nobody good…
There is a buzz among East Coast fishermen that BOEM is too close to corporations associated with the wind/oil/gas/minerals business. They're also looking with a wary eye on the contractor of ‘Big Dig’ (a major tunnel project), the Bechtel group, that is going to lay the underwater power line leading from the offshore wind farms to the consumer centres. This, because this group, according to the Department of Justice and the Massachusetts Attorney General, to resolve its criminal and civil liabilities in connection with the collapse of part of the I-90 Connector Tunnel ceiling and other defects in the Tip O’Neil tunnel, other construction deficiencies and false reporting, has agreed to pay along with its subcontractors $407m fines.
In the meantime both the federal and the state authorities, after several years of negotiations and litigations, have approved the Cape Code wind farm on the Horseshoe Shoal at Nantucket Sound, the construction of which is set up to start this year. The proposed project covers 24m2 (62 km2) and envisions 130 wind turbines, each having a hub height of 285 feet (87m). The blade diameter is 364 feet (111m), with the lowest blade tip height at 75 feet (23m) and the top blade tip height at 440 feet (130m). The turbines would be sited between 4-11 miles (6.44-17.71km) offshore depending on the shoreline. At peak generation, Cape Wind is expected to satisfy about 75% of the average electricity demand for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket island combined.
Currently 45% of the Cape region's electricity comes from a plant, which burns bunker oil and natural gas. According to an optimistic estimate, Cape Wind could offset close to a million tons of CO2 every year and its electricity production would reduce the annual consumption of fuel oil by 430,000m3.
Many important species of finfish and invertebrates, including bluefish, striped bass, scup, summer flounder, black sea bass, and loligo squid abound in Nantucket Sound. Their commercial and recreational harvest adds millions of dollars to the local economy. Horseshoe Shoal, which comprises spawning and nursery grounds, as well as abundant hunting grounds for piscivores and a target area for commercial and recreational fishermen, is the most prominent ecological bottom feature in the Sound.
The wind-power industry also has its problems. As a fishery activist Barbara Durkin reported: “Cape Wind represents an unreliable energy source as turbines manufactured by GE and Siemens that are projected also for Cape Wind are ‘discontinued’, ‘sinking’, ‘shifting’ and ‘corroding’ ”. It appears that faults in the Europe-wide design standards have been identified, with towers shifting several centimeters under the impact of harsh offshore conditions. According to Angela Jameson, writing in Times Online, hundreds of offshore "monopile" Dutch, Danish and German wind turbines could be suffering from a design flaw that makes them sink into the sea.
Gone with the wind?
Another setback is, according to the Sunday Times, the failure of wind farms to generate enough electricity under windy conditions when turbines were forced to shut down in winds of 56 knots, with power from wind turbines slumping by 2/3 in hurricane-force winds. On the other hand, in 2010, lack of wind caused most of Britain’s turbines to stop producing. Not that all this will comfort fishermen, who are going to lose access to important fishing grounds. If the trend of marine wind turbines persist, and I'm afraid it would, many fishing businesses will be gone with the wind…