Amidst the gale force wind that is Connecticut’s intensifying interest in exploiting the financial potential of wind power, and its impact on the state attaining clean energy goals, there are concerns that a longstanding state industry may inadvertently be blown out of the water.
Commercial fishing, a mainstay of Connecticut commerce, is raising a cautionary voice – even as the state is doubling down on the potential benefits of a burgeoning 21st century industry. Harnessing wind power is seen in some circles as harassing the scores of commercial fishing businesses whose livelihood depends on sustaining much of the status quo above the water’s surface – or at least not subsuming one renewable resource for another.
Last week, the Connecticut Port Authority and operator of the State Pier in New London joined Governor Ned Lamont to announce a $93 million public-private partnership with a wind energy partnership between Eversource and Denmark-based Orsted to upgrade the pier and capitalize on growing offshore wind energy. An Eversource official said the announcement “lays the foundation for Connecticut to play a leading role in the United States’ fast-growing offshore wind industry and supports our transition from older, dirtier fuel sources to clean, affordable, carbon-free energy.”
“If the wind source industry wants to have a stake in generating electricity in our state’s waters,” Joseph Gilbert, owner of Empire Fisheries of Milford, recently told the state legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee, “it must come with added responsibility to protect the existing fishing industry. Failure to protect economically and environmentally stable fishing grounds, prime fishing waters and the sea life that we depend upon puts our industry – and the health of Connecticut’s sea food consumers at great risk.”
State officials have said that the state’s commercial fishermen landed over 7 million pounds (live weight) of finfish, lobster, scallops, crabs and squid worth $14 million, in 2013, noting that “commercial fishing makes an important contribution to Connecticut’s economy.” As of 2014, there were more than 800 jobs in the fisheries industry, according to published reports.
“Developing Connecticut’s offshore wind energy resources cannot be accomplished in a vacuum,” Gilbert, a board member of the Fisheries Survival Fund and the Connecticut Maritime Coalition, said. “Simply put, we cannot displace one renewable resource – our state’s fishing industry - with another renewable resource.”
Legislation approved by the committee now awaits action by the House. If approved there, it would next go to the Senate. As currently drafted, the bill would have the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection solicit proposals from developers of facilities that generate electricity using offshore wind.
If it is determined that a submitted proposal is “in ratepayers’ best interests and having a positive impact on the state’s economic development, the bill allows the commissioner to direct the electric distribution companies (EDCs; i.e., Eversource and United Illuminating) to enter into up to 20-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) to buy energy, capacity, or environmental attributes (e.g., renewable energy certificates) under the proposal,” according to the Office of Legislative Research.
Gilbert and other industry advocates and business owners laid out a series of substantial concerns, on behalf of their colleagues, urging legislators to move forward carefully even as million-dollar investments are made in wind-power technology.
Among the industry-impacting concerns are sea life killed or shellfish beds destroyed or disrupted by seismic blasts during wind turbine construction, oil leakage and corrosive effects of aging turbines, rising sediment from a disturbed ocean floor, which can particularly harmful to the scallop population.
There are also concerns about the impact of spinning blades on vessels and radar, of construction debris reaching the ocean floor that can endanger traveling vessels, underwater low frequency vibrations that can affect migration routes as well as sea life, and the increasing hazards to fishing vessels of an obstacle course of spinning blades and turbine towers.
“While Connecticut’s interest at the moment is for a small number of turbines, fishermen must contend with the broader picture of thousands of these towers placed in the ocean by multiple vendors,” Gilbert noted. “Based on spacing, orientation and alignment, vast areas of seafloor will become inaccessible to fishermen,” he added.
In her testimony before the committee, DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes pointed out that “Offshore wind facilities have the potential to deliver large quantities of zero carbon renewable energy to Connecticut and New England, helping our state and region make significant progress towards meeting our climate goals. They also have a high capacity factor relative to other types of zero-carbon renewable resources, and tend to produce electricity more consistently—key features that help offshore wind facilities contribute to meeting the regional grid’s fuel security and reliability challenges.”
She added that “The proximity of New London to federal lease areas off the New England coast means that offshore wind investment both in Connecticut and across New England can be a key driver for economic development in the state for all aspects of turbine construction, deployment, and maintenance.”
The latest draft of the legislation to encourage wind power electricity generation includes a requirement that any proposal would include “an explicit description of the best management practices that will be used to avoid, minimize, and mitigate any impacts on wildlife, natural resources, ecosystems, and traditional or existing water-dependent uses” as well as “certain requirements related to protecting fishing vessels and commercial fishing.”
The bill calls for the DEEP solicitations to include requirements for selected bids to require that wind turbines be installed in a manner designed to lessen any impact to current fishing vessel operators; identify necessary transit routes to accommodate fishing vessels so they may safely and efficiently traverse lease areas; and require an analysis of underwater noise impacts and an evaluation of the proposal’s impacts on ocean circulation patterns and water flow. It also require protections for fisheries “that are at least equal to any protections adopted by New York,” OLR’s analysis explained.
Yet, the prospects of a disrupted ecosystem, diminished area in which to successfully fish, and increased dangers in pursuing their day-to-day business has led to stepped up efforts to earn the attention of lawmakers and state officials. They are urging officials to “take appropriate action to help protect our state’s proud and historic fishing industry as a condition to bringing clean, offshore wind power to Connecticut’s residents. In other, words, don’t have one renewable resource displace another renewable resource.”