Episode 55 Transcript: The Truth About Offshore Wind
CLARICE: Good morning, everybody. And welcome to this week’s episode of Environmentally Speaking.
MARISA: Hi, everyone. I’m Marisa Desautel an environmental attorney in Rhode Island.
CLARICE: And I’m Clarice. We’re having a debate. We’re having a listener debate. I’ve always refrained from saying my last name, but Marisa just pointed out a couple minutes ago maybe I should start saying, and I’m Clarice Parsons.
MARISA: Yeah. We might turn this into like a social media vote.
MARISA: It just seems fair.
CLARICE: Listeners, do you – what are your thoughts? Do we care? Is my first name unique enough where I can go without a last name like a Beyonce or Cher?
MARISA: Definitely, yes. But the question is why are we saying my last name and not yours?
CLARICE: I don’t know. We’ll put together a poll, okay. This is our Friday morning debate, listeners.
MARISA: So this morning’s episode is one of the episodes that falls into the category that Clarice and I always used to follow back when we worked together that if there was a hot topic or something that came up repeatedly during the workweek then that was something that needed to be talked about. So this week’s topic, like I said, is in that category and it has to do with offshore wind. Let me ask you, Clarice, you are in Massachusetts right over the line. Have you been hearing anything in the news or on social media, word of mouth kind of thing about any offshore wind projects?
CLARICE: This past summer I heard a lot about Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard wind.
CLARICE: But the topic we’re about to talk about I haven’t heard of.
MARISA: So I’m glad that you said that because I’m of the opinion based on what I do every day that there’s not enough public knowledge about what’s happening with our federal waters and then our state waters to the extent that offshore wind projects are using state waters to transmit electricity. So what am I talking about. Specifically there are two projects that have already been approved for Rhode Island. One is the Block Island project that you mentioned and the other is something called Vineyard Wind and that was approved a couple of years ago. It’s not been constructed yet.
There are two other projects that are in various stages of the state and federal permitting process. One is called Revolution Wind and the other is called Mayflower Wind. Now, I agree they have great names. I don’t know who’s coming up with the branding for these things, but they sound fabulous. The issue is the environmental impacts associated with these projects and the impact to the fishing industry and local economies is unknown. The projects are brand new, so a lot of this is people flying blind. And in the context of public knowledge and public information, those two things are not good. You can’t have a project developer and the regulators, you know, figure it out as they go and then the public not even knowing that it’s happening. So that’s my theme today.
[0:03:37] CLARICE: And we’ve talked about Revolution Wind in the past in our last wind-themed episode, but Mayflower Wind I’ve never heard of. So let’s start a little bit with the foundation of where is Mayflower Wind proposed to take place, what area?
MARISA: That’s a very important question because all of these – not all. A lot of these offshore wind projects are located in federal waters, meaning, past three nautical miles from any given state’s coastline. That’s the demarcation between state water and federal water. So the turbines – we’re talking about giant turbines – are not in state waters. The state doesn’t have jurisdiction over the siting and permitting of the turbines themselves.
However, the turbine farm has to somehow transmit the power that it generates to shore and that’s how the state gets implicated in terms of like a full state process. There’s a lot of nuances here in terms of federal versus state, so I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole too much other than to say as soon as any component of the project is located in state waters that implicates a review by – depending on the facts and location – the Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Counsel, and something called the Energy Facility Siting Board.
CLARICE: And we’ve talked about this before in a very general sense of whether it is state or federal water there needs to be some way to get that newly created power back to shore. So, you know, just the idea of those cables need to run back to land I think is – in all of the jurisdictions it crosses over is where we sort of get to the sticky point. But Mayflower Wind, from what I’ve recently read after I learned about this, is proposed to happen – correct me if I’m wrong – near Martha’s Vineyard again?
[0:06:03] MARISA: Yeah. This giant wind farm lease area is adjacent and I think it’s like five nautical miles in size in total. So there are a few different developers that are developing certain sections of the lease area and it’s a big area. Mayflower – and I recognize that you asked me a question about Mayflower and I failed to answer it. But Mayflower is sited in this federal lease area with the cable proposed to run up the Sakonnet River, the west passage Sakonnet River. And there are coastal communities on each side of that. I was very surprised that I’m only aware of two municipalities that have been proactive about trying to engage with the Energy Facility Siting Board process and I think it’s because people just don’t know enough about these projects to fully get involved.
CLARICE: And I’m wondering from your perspective knowing that there is Vineyard Wind happening and now Mayflower Wind and they’re both – for those of us who don’t know a lot of the details, hearing that they’re both near Martha’s Vineyard it can get very confusing and conflated. So do you think that that could be part of the reason why folks don’t know about this? They hear, oh, there’s a wind project near Martha’s Vineyard, I know about this. And they don’t take the time to learn which one or that there is the possibility of a second one?
MARISA: That presupposes that the burden is on the average American citizen to dig into things and I don’t know in this context that I agree with that concept because there is something called the Public Trust Doctrine in this country. It’s a common law concept, meaning, that it came over from England. It’s not in statute necessarily. But in Rhode Island the state holds the access and use of water in something called the public trust and that means that anybody can use it. Everybody can use it. Same goes for the federal government. They are stewards for federal water.
Seeing as how this is a public resource – the ocean belongs to everyone – we take a really poor position when it comes to being stewards of the ocean. It’s polluted. It’s full of plastic, oil spills. It’s not good. The federal government is taking it one step further and I will not get on my soapbox about this. But the federal government has decided that they are going to lease a certain portion of the federal waters to private interests and not even necessarily American companies. These are international foreign companies that are on the cutting edge of wind power and they are executing lease agreements with the federal government and then putting themselves through the federal and state process to get approval for certain components of the infrastructure. So that’s what’s going on here.
It’s my opinion that it’s incumbent upon the federal government and state government to notify citizens of what’s going on. Now, the government will tell you, oh, we have public meetings and it’s publicly noticed. And, yeah, I just feel like this is so important the government should be doing a better job of explaining what it is that’s happening because all of a sudden these projects are going to – construction is going to start and people are going to be shocked at the scope and size.
[0:10:24] CLARICE: And at that point once the digging and the materials start getting sent out to site, that’s the point where it’s almost a little too late. The wheels have already turned. That review period’s passed.
MARISA: Yes. Yes. That’s exactly right.
CLARICE: So it’s important to start talking about this and looking at this now.
MARISA: The Energy Facility Siting Board decided this week to allow both the town of Middletown and the town of Little Compton to intervene in the Mayflower Wind docket proceeding that is pending before them. It’s the right decision because of what I just said. You want local engagement. You want municipalities involved. Yes, these projects are going forward. I mean, the federal government is behind them, so there’s no way they’re not going forward, but you still want public participation. The public needs to know what the impacts are going to be. There needs to be a conversation about mitigation. You know, how do we minimize impacts or avoid impacts and if we can’t what do we do. How do we make sure that those impacted are made whole including benthic environments.
Now, this is not a – benthic environments are not a government or public thing. They’re the organisms that live on the bottom of the ocean familiar. The bottom of the ocean familiar, that’s redundant. They’re organisms that live on the ocean floor and they’ll be disrupted through construction, laying of the cables and deconstruction and if there’s any maintenance that needs to occur. So how do we mitigate the benthic environment. These are questions that the public needs to be involved with and they are at a very minimal level in my experience.
CLARICE: It’s a new word that we all learned today.
CLARICE: Benthic, yeah. I have to say when you say that I went back through the article I read about this and I was like, I don’t remember the benthic group. Are they a nonprofit. Who are they. Yeah. Yeah. And, I mean, just going back to what you said about how, yes, it’s proposed to be in a federal area, but obviously there’s that federal and state needing to work together in this because those cables are going to run back onto state land.
CLARICE: And knowing that Rhode Island is – and this is going to be the most obvious sentence — a small state and it’s coastal, this is going to touch so many different parts of Rhode Island.
[0:13:09] MARISA: Yes.
CLARICE: Having more town and city involvements is going to be really important for this.
MARISA: Yes. Yeah. So that’s the message for the day. Just trying to bring a little more awareness to these projects that are – they’re happening, Mayflower, Revolution Wind, South Fork.
CLARICE: Vineyard Wind.
MARISA: I think Vineyard Wind, yes.
CLARICE: The whole Rhode Island coast is just going to look like pinwheels.
CLARICE: So just for a little bit of timeline, I’m going to cite the article that I’m pulling this from. But Mayflower Wind expects to have completed all environmental reviews and permitting by early 2024 and the project is expected to become operational sometime in 2028.
MARISA: Oh, okay. Operational, so then construction would occur between 2004 and 2008.
MARISA: Excuse me. 2024, 2028.
CLARICE: Very behind schedule otherwise. All right, folks. Well, if you want to hear more about Vineyard Wind or Mayflower, Revolution, all of these – these all sound like they could be sports team names.
MARISA: I know, right. I know. Impressive.
CLARICE: Yeah. If you want to hear more about the different wind farms or other forms of energy – or let us know if you’ve heard of this. Have you heard of the Mayflower Wind project? If you have how did you learn about it. Let us know. Hit us up on the socials. Our social media handle is Desautel Law. You can hit us up via e-mail at Help@DesautelESQ.com. And we’d love to hear if you know about Mayflower Wind and if you want to hear my last name repeatedly.
MARISA: Oh, yeah. That’s the important question.
CLARICE: Have a good week, everybody.