Construction for nation’s largest commercial offshore wind farm underway, but challenges loom

HYANNIS, Mass. – Offshore wind industry experts say that wind could be the answer to minimize our carbon footprint, and here in the U.S., we’re seeing one of the country’s first offshore wind projects come to life off the coast of Massachusetts where the wind will be used as an emissions-free energy source.

Vineyard Wind is currently constructing the country’s largest commercial offshore wind project, and the goal is to use electricity produced by wind turbines to power homes starting in 2023.

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"We’re about a year into onshore construction, and we’ve just begun offshore," said Andrew Doba, spokesperson for Vineyard Wind. "One spin of the turbine will power a home for 24 hours in the U.S."

There will be 62 turbines spaced about a mile apart that will produce power for about 400,000 homes. The turbines will be constructed about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Underwater cables will bring that energy from the turbines to Covell’s Beach in Barnstable, Massachusetts.

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"This is where our offshore cables make landfall and ultimately travel six-plus miles to the grid," Doba said.

FOX Weather multimedia journalist Katie Byrne got a tour of the grid, also known as the onshore substation for Vineyard Wind in Hyannis, Massachusetts, about six miles away.

Doba said the wind speeds and shallow waters make Cape Cod an ideal spot to generate wind energy.

"The area where we’re building is called the Saudi Arabia of wind," Doba said. "You’ve got very high wind speeds which make it really attractive for projects like this."

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Not everyone is on board with the project, however.

A group called ACK Residents Against Turbines is worried a power plant in the water there could threaten one of the world’s most endangered large whale species – the North Atlantic Right Whale.

"These whales are thriving here right now," president and founder of the group Vallorie Oliver said. "For whatever reason, they’re here. They’re here, calving. They’re foraging. This is where their food source is."

Oliver was born and raised on Nantucket.

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"Anybody who probably lives up and down, well, Cape Cod, every day you get some sort of notification," she said, "’There are whales spotted here. There are whales spotted there. Stay away from them.’"

Their group has filed a federal lawsuit in hopes of putting the project on pause.

"What we’re saying in the lawsuit is you’re not looking at the U.S. government’s endangered species laws and environmental protection laws carefully enough, and you need to look at them beyond just this first Vineyard Wind One project," Amy Disibio said. "You really need to look at it in aggregate because the Vineyard Wind One project will be the first of a bunch that are occurring right in this area."

According to NOAA Fisheries, the coast of New England is a critical habitat for the North Atlantic Right Whale, and there are less than 400 of them left.

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"What will creating a power plant in the middle of the ocean do to marine life, in particular to the North Atlantic Right Whale?" Disibio asked. "But what will it do to the entire food chain?"

Vineyard Wind said it’s taking precautions when it comes to the North Atlantic Right Whales.

"So, we’re working with Charles River Analytics," Doba said. "They’re providing tech on board to help us avoid the endangered species. It’s one of many things we’re doing. We’re also working with the University of New Hampshire on acoustic monitoring. And all the vessels have protected species observers on board."

A judge in Boston is expected to hear the case in January.