Vineyard Wind Reaches Agreement To Protect Right Whales

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Massachusetts offshore wind developer Vineyard Wind has partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in an effort to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Under the agreement, Vineyard Wind will institute a variety of protective measures to keep right whales safe while installing and operating turbines at its proposed 84-turbine project off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.

“Scaling up offshore wind in wildlife-friendly ways is essential to confronting the climate crisis,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of NWF. “By ensuring that offshore wind power is responsibly built and operated, this model agreement is a win-win for conserving wildlife and creating well-paying jobs.”

Turbine construction will be curtailed in the winter and early spring when the North Atlantic right whales may be in the area, and there will be comprehensive monitoring to ensure that construction doesn’t take place when the whales are near the site. Further, Vineyard Wind will dampen construction noise that may disturb the whales’ ability to communicate, find food and stay on their migratory path. The agreement also includes strict vessel speed limits.

“This innovative agreement is proof that we can grow the clean energy we need to power our homes and businesses and, at the same time, protect vulnerable wildlife like the iconic North Atlantic right whale,” comments Nathanael Greene, senior renewable energy advocate at NRDC.

“As we ask more of our oceans, we must ensure that we balance the critical need for clean energy with the protection of our majestic right whales and other marine species,” adds Dr. Priscilla Brooks, director of ocean conservation at CLF. “This agreement marks a significant step forward in responsible development of offshore wind energy.”

Vineyard Wind will further invest $3 million to develop and deploy innovative technologies and undertake scientific research to further safeguard the marine mammals.

According to the environmental advocacy groups, barely 400 right whales remain on the planet. For decades, the North Atlantic right whale has been harmed by many existing marine uses, including entanglement with fishing gear and vessel collisions. The right whale protections announced today provide an important template other offshore wind projects should consider, the groups note.

“Throughout development of the project, Vineyard Wind has strived to work with all stakeholders to proactively resolve potential issues and design the best project possible,” says Erich Stephens, chief development officer at Vineyard Wind. “It has been especially gratifying to work with these leading environmental groups in developing enhanced protections for right whales during all phases of what will be the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind project.”

The full agreement can be read here.

Photo: North Atlantic Right Whale mother and calf. From http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/rightwhale/photos.htm

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Wind farms also create an ideal dual purpose if designated as marine mammal sanctuaries. Maybe then consider lifting speed restrictions for commercial traffic when in a TSS (IMO approved/adopted) or designated navigational route. (pending impact study, of course…)