PROVIDENCE—A number of state officials met at the Save the Bay building on upper Narragansett Bay Friday afternoon to announce the removal of Cox’s Ledge from the area of consideration for Deepwater Wind’s offshore wind project. Cox’s Ledge, a popular spot for Rhode Island commercial fishermen, was taken out of the proposed ‘Wind Energy Area’ (WEA), preventing the construction of wind turbines in an environment which is vital to the commercial fishing industry.
“Cox’s Ledge is the crown jewel of southern New England,” said Tim Platz, President of the Commercial Fisheries Center. “If it were on land, people would be pulling their hair out if [Cox’s Ledge] was disturbed.”
“Anything we can do to protect it is for the better, and this is a step in the right direction,” he added.
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and State Representative David Cicilline were joined by members of Rhode Island Sea Grant, Save The Bay, and other marine fishery entities to endorse the announcement.
“This important step toward development of offshore, renewable wind energy for our state is also a step towards creating badly needed jobs for Rhode Islanders,” said Whitehouse. “I’m glad the concerns of the Rhode Island fishing industry were taken into account for this decision, and I hope the collaboration with fishermen and all stakeholders continues. Doing so will protect our environment and existing coastal industries, and will keep our Ocean State at the forefront of the emerging clean energy economy.”
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has identified the WEA, which delineates 209,585 acres of federal waters off of Block Island, as leasable for wind farm development. The WEA exists within an ‘Area of Mutual Interest,’ (AMI) identified in a Memorandum of Understanding between Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 2010.
Senator Jack Reed has been an advocate in Washington for the local commercial fishing industry, pushing for legislation which will give two seats to Rhode Islanders on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (MAFMC), a governance organization which controls a large number of Allowable Catch Limits and landings for Rhode Island fishermen. The ‘Rhode Island Fishermen’s Fairness Act,’ as Reed’s legislation is called, awaits sponsorship to be heard at the House and Senate levels.
“[The removal of Cox’s Ledge from the WEA] will help protect the livelihoods of Rhode Island’s fishermen and move forward with establishing commercial wind energy development in Rhode Island, which can bring critical jobs and investment to the state,” said Reed.
BOEM canvassed the local fishing community as well as potential commercial developers in order to decide upon a WEA which is suitable for both the protection of marine resources and the successful promulgation of clean energy.
“Offshore wind can be constructed and operated in our ocean waters without significant impacts to the important fishing industry,” said William M. Moore, CEO of Deepwater Wind in a statement regarding the announcement. “While we firmly believe that offshore wind and commercial fishing can coexist and thrive in our ocean waters, we agree that the decision to exclude certain areas from offshore wind development is a positive step to advance the leasing and permitting processes.”
“Developing new, renewable energy sources can benefit the vital ecosystems that support the fishing industry by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants from fossil-fuel burning plants,” he added.
Deepwater Wind is currently developing an offshore wind farm in the waters southeast of Block Island, which will consist of five wind turbines and produce 30 megawatts of electrical energy. The wind turbines will provide Block Island will enough energy to support the island’s needs throughout the year, accounting for only ten percent of the wind farm’s total electrical output.
An information session was held this past December at Narragansett Elementary School to inform the public about Deepwater Wind’s plans for developing the offshore wind project, including the transmission line which will connect to National Grid’s energy system in the Narragansett Pier.
The removal of Cox’s Ledge, which made up approximately 20 percent of the originally proposed WEA, has been cited by state officials as a step forward in the communication process between the multiple stakeholders in the marine environment.
“Cox’s Ledge has always been a nutrient area that lobsters and fish prefer, which has to do with the bottom there,” said Richard Fuka, President of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance. “Cox’s Ledge has a lot of hard bottom areas that offer refuge and places for fish to spawn.”
“Because of the rough terrain, it makes for a preferred area for species like Cod fish and lobsters,” he added. “It is an important piece of ground for commercial fishermen.”