US ignores own scientists’ warnings to support Atlantic wind farm

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U.S. government scientists have warned federal regulators that the South Fork offshore wind farm near the Rhode Island coast is threatening the Southern New England Cod, a species highly revered in the region.

The Ministry of the Interior nevertheless approved the project.

The warnings were conveyed in unpublished correspondence weeks before the Home Office’s Office of Ocean Energy Management approved the 12-turbine South Fork plan in November 2021. They also serve to highlight the potential ecological consequences and environmental trade-off of an impending offshore wind burst along the US East Coast. . President Joe Biden wants the US to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by the end of the decade.

The burgeoning US industry is already facing increasing challenges from supply chain struggles and rising costs, including interest rates, prompting the developers behind a separate project near Massachusetts to seek a delay in planning the initiative.

The ecological challenges represent another headwind for the offshore wind. Although conservationists argue that building more emission-free renewable energy is critical to tackling climate change and supporting declining ocean species threatened by warming oceans, the short-term effects on marine life could be significant.

Marine scientists have warned that projects off the New England coast could endanger endangered North Atlantic right whales. And in August, the New England Fisheries Management Council defined Atlantic waters already chartered for offshore wind development as “habitat of special concern”; This is an appointment that encourages the government to take a more strict and cautious approach to allowing.

Concerns about the 132-megawatt South Fork project, developed by Orsted AS and Eversource Energy, have focused on its overlap with the Cox Ledge, a major spawning ground for cod, and “a sensitive ecological area that provides valuable habitat for a number of federally managed fish species.” ,” said the deputy regional director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a letter to Department of the Interior officials in October 2021. Based on in-house expertise and peer-reviewed science, the agency said, “this project poses a high risk of population-level impacts on Southern New England Atlantic cod.” .

Populations of southern New England Atlantic cod have declined due to overfishing and warming ocean waters, prompting environmentalists to ban commercial and recreational fishing of the iconic species.

“Our cod stocks are not doing well,” complained Tom Nies, executive director of the New England Fisheries Management Council. “We’ve been struggling to rebuild our cod stocks for a while, but they’re still not producing as they should.”

The Home Office has taken some steps to blunt the effects on Atlantic cod, including removing parts of the Cox Ledge from lease. The developers, who must monitor cod activity at the facility from November to the end of March, plan to adjust their work schedule to avoid the tainted spawning areas. And the final South Fork plan was reduced from 15 turbines to 12 following warnings from NOAA.

Still, the ocean agency blamed the Department of the Interior for ignoring other recommendations for cod conservation and said the bureau bases some of its decisions on flawed assumptions that are not backed up by science. That includes the decision not to interfere with piling at the very start of the spawning season in November, although NOAA says the noise can hinder activity and force some cod to leave the area.

An Orsted spokesperson declined to comment, and Eversource representatives declined to comment.

Representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management did not specifically comment on NOAA’s latest alerts. However, more extensive mitigation efforts are ongoing. In an emailed statement, the bureau emphasized that it uses spatial modeling to guide charter decisions in the Gulf of Mexico, mid-Atlantic and waters near Oregon.

The BOEM is also reviewing public feedback on its proposed plan to limit the impact of offshore wind on fisheries through better project layout and design and financial compensation.

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