NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The White House’s top climate official promised Wednesday that the administration will listen to concerns of the fishing industry as President Biden pushes forward with a major expansion of offshore wind energy.
Gina McCarthy — who led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama and is now the first-ever White House national climate adviser — said the administration already took those complaints into account before granting approval Tuesday to Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm.
“We needed to make sure with Vineyard Wind that we paid close attention to the concerns of our fishers,” McCarthy told 12 News in an interview. “Our fisheries industry is important — it’s part of who we stand for — and so we did tremendous outreach.”
She added, “Certainly there remains concerns, and we’re going to be diligent all through the construction process.”
Set to be staged out of the Port of New Bedford, Vineyard Wind is an 84-turbine project off Martha’s Vineyard that is supposed to generate 800 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 400,000 homes — once it’s up and running. Federal, state and local leaders have hailed it as a milestone for Southern New England and the nation as a whole.
“It’s the start of a long, I think, and hopeful history that we’re going to create here to actually use the technologies of the future for our benefit, for people, and for the planet,” said McCarthy, a Massachusetts native. “This is really the first of its kind in federal waters for offshore wind.”
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell has been walking a tightrope on the issue, hailing the wind industry’s potential to spur economic development in his city even as he keeps advocating for the fishing sector. The Whaling City is home to the highest-grossing fishing port in the United States, but also the Marine Commerce Terminal, a facility built specifically to stage offshore wind projects.
Last month, Mitchell sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management urging her to redraw the boundaries for offshore wind around an ocean area called the New York Bight that is key for scallopers.
“BOEM and all those working to develop the offshore wind resource must also take into account New Bedford’s unique role as the center of commercial fishing activity that stretches from the Gulf of Maine to the Carolinas, as well as the special role that New York waters play in New Bedford’s success,” Mitchell wrote.
McCarthy said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will be a key point person for the Biden administration when it comes to balancing fishing interests against wind interests due to her time as governor of Rhode Island, another fishing state.
“Gina Raimondo couldn’t be more aware of it from her Rhode Island constituents,” McCarthy said. “You can take her out of Rhode Island, but you’re not going to take Rhode Island out of her.”
More broadly, McCarthy said offshore wind is emerging as an even more important linchpin of the Biden administration’s clean energy strategy than had originally been expected. There are about 16 projects currently in the pipeline, and the administration says it hopes to have some operational by 2025, with a goal to have 30 gigawatts total by 2030.
“It’s way bigger than anyone anticipated,” she said, “because we’re seeing the resources off the coast not just in the East Coast, but now it’s opening up in the West Coast, we’re looking at the Gulf of Mexico, we’re even looking at the gulf coast up in Maine all the way down to Florida.”
One of the next big projects to follow Vineyard Wind is expected to be Revolution Wind, a 100-turbine project being developed by Orsted and Eversource to serve Rhode Island and Connecticut. (Orsted acquired the small Block Island Wind Farm after buying its developer, Deepwater Wind.)
While Revolution Wind is “not as close to the finish line” as Vineyard Wind, McCarthy said, “we’re going to start that process and hopefully within a short period of time you’re going to see another announcement for operation and construction moving forward.”
Like Vineyard Wind, Revolution Wind will be located in federal waters off New England’s southeastern coast. Its power transmission line would make landfall at Quonset Point in North Kingstown, then connect to the regional electric grid using National Grid’s existing Davisville Substation.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management began its formal federal environmental review of Revolution Wind on April 29, and the first virtual public meeting on the project is scheduled for Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
“BOEM is committed to ensuring that any future offshore wind development is done safely and responsibly, and with the benefit of feedback from critical stakeholders,” BOEM Director Amanda Lefton said last month.
Orsted and Eversource officials have indicated the original target date for Revolution Wind to begin construction — 2023 — is likely to slip due to delays in the regulatory process.
“We’re proud to be building the first utility-scale offshore wind farms serving New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and we stand ready to join our colleagues in the industry to support the bold path President Biden is charting for a nation fueled by affordable clean energy,” Orsted and Eversource said in a joint statement.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram