Offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind and nonprofit organization Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) have formed an agreement designed to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales during the construction of the Block Island Wind Farm, a 30 MW demonstration-scale offshore wind project proposed in state waters about three miles off the Block Island coast.
After extensive discussions with CLF, Deepwater Wind has agreed to voluntarily adjust its planned construction period to minimize potential impacts on migrating North Atlantic right whales. Right whales have been documented feeding in Rhode Island Sound throughout the month of April.
Deepwater Wind had originally planned to begin the pile driving necessary to secure its wind farm to the ocean floor in April of its construction year, which is expected to be either 2014 or 2015. However, as a result of the agreement, the company will not begin the pile driving before May 1 of that year.
The pile driving is required to fasten the five proposed turbine steel foundations to the seafloor using steel piles that are hammered up to 250 feet beneath the ocean floor.
"Deepwater Wind has worked diligently to try to understand the key issues for the project area, and because we share a common interest in advancing renewable energy in Rhode Island, we have been motivated to work together to develop solutions that keep us moving forward," explains Tricia K. Jedele, vice president and director of CLF's Rhode Island office.
As a result of the agreement, Deepwater Wind has filed an amended project schedule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.
The agreement adopts the seasonal-restriction concept set forth in a right-whale-protections agreement established last month for the Mid-Atlantic region by a Deepwater Wind-led coalition of offshore wind developers and national environmental organizations.
The coalition – which includes Deepwater Wind, CLF, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Energy Management Inc. (Cape Wind) and NRG Bluewater Wind – agreed to a set of protective measures that the developers will voluntarily implement over the next four years in the Mid-Atlantic wind energy areas, which stretch from New Jersey to Virginia.
The measures outlined in that agreement provide protections for the North Atlantic right whales, primarily by limiting sound impacts from exploratory activities such as underwater geological surveys and the construction of temporary towers to measure weather conditions. NRDC, NWF and CLF plan to pursue a similar agreement with interested developers for the federal wind energy area in Rhode Island Sound.
The Block Island Wind Farm will be connected to both Block Island and mainland Rhode Island via the bidirectional Block Island Transmission System.