The five developers advancing offshore wind farms off the northeast US – Equinor, Mayflower Wind, Orsted/Eversource and Vineyard Wind – have put forward a proposal to the country’s US Coast Guard (USCG) to use a uniform turbine layout for the projects, in a bid to defuse ongoing objections from the regional fishery industries.

The New England Offshore Wind Leaseholders (NEOWL), advancing more than 7GW between them, said the layout would have rows of turbines spaced one nautical mile apart, and align to the USCG’s requirement for “robust navigational safety and search and rescue capability by providing hundreds of transit corridors to accommodate the region’s vessel traffic”.

“This uniform layout is consistent with the requests of the region’s fisheries industry and other maritime users,” said the NEOWL in a joint statement. The proposed layout specifies that turbines will be spaced one nautical mile apart, arranged in east-west rows and north-south columns, with the rows and columns continuous across all New England lease areas.

The developers said the adapted layout answered the four principal concerns of “key stakeholders”: navigation safety; the fisheries sector’s request for “uniform and consistent spacing between turbines” throughout maritime area; creation of distinct transit corridors; and the facilitation of search and rescue operations conducted by both vessel and aircraft.

But fishery industry body the Fisheries Survival Fund (FSF) poured cold water on the NEOWL’s reconfigured layout saying it was “unclear what industry requests these developers are responding to”, noting “this proposal does not reflect the position of the scallop industry … [or] how this unsupported proposal, delivered to the [USCG] for the stated purpose of addressing other maritime interests, will benefit commercial fisheries or promote fishing vessel navigational safety”.

We were not consulted on this proposal ... and do not support it now.

One nautical mile spacing between turbines, it underlined, “neither allows for safe transit nor viable fishing, at least from the scallop fishery’s perspective”.

“We were not consulted on this proposal, have not supported this proposal in the past, and do not support it now,” said FSF.

The NEOWL’s proposal to the USCG included a report from consultancy WF Baird & Associates that found:

  • Most traffic is “transiting around or along the outside edges” of the offshore area being scoped for development by the NEOWL companies
  • Most of the transiting vessels are fishing vessels following “a wide range of transit paths through the [area] as they are coming from several different ports and heading to a variety of fishing grounds”;
  • Vessels up to 400 feet long can safely operate within the proposed 1 x 1 nautical mile layout, and historic transit data shows vessels over this length tend to use existing “traffic separation schemes” already outside the area in question.

“Given the many advantages of the proposed 1x1 nautical mile regional layout, [we are] proud to be working together to present a collaborative solution that they believe accommodates all ocean users in the region,” said the NEOWL.

“The proposal is a result of the distinct solution and response to specific challenges in New England and would not be applicable to offshore wind leases in other geographies where challenges are different.”

The Responsible Offshore Development Alliance (RODA), which has the mission of liaising with regulatory agencies including the National Marine Fisheries Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), USCG, fishery management councils, state authorities and offshore wind developers to “minimise conflicts with existing traditional and historical fishing”, said it’s central concern in the revisions to the offshore wind farm layouts was that “spacing and orientation of wind turbines is not only determinative of fishery access, but more importantly a critical safety issue”.

“Any project layout must be supported by evidence that the pattern minimises risk to fishing and scientific survey vessel operators based on analyses of radar interference, insurance limitations, operability of search and rescue operations, and related factors,” RODA said, in a statement, adding it “looked forward to the results of ongoing studies and a transparent discussion of their outcomes”.

The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), a Washington, DC-based trade group that represents traditional and renewable energy companies with operations on the outer continental shelf, offered support for the uniform turbine layout proposal.

President Erik G. Milito called it a "viable solution" to questions regarding navigational safety, fisheries considerations, distinct transit corridors and the facilitation of search and rescue operations.

"These leaseholders are building a collaborative approach to problem solving that will benefit all stakeholders," he said in a statement.

The US offshore wind has in the last four years transitioned from a solitary five-turbine pilot project operating off Rhode Island, the 30MW Block Island, into a potential major new source of clean, cost-competitive energy for the nation’s most populous coastal states, with industry forecasts suggesting capacity could grow to as much as 16GW by 2030.

Updates with NOIA president comment