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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    OPINION: Lawsuits drop over wind industry’s ‘industrialization’ of ocean views

    Like many people, I bought in for a long time to the notion, aggressively promoted by the offshore wind industry, that the huge turbines being proposed would hardly be visible from shore.

    Well, here comes the puncturing of that myth, with new lawsuits, being brought by Newport preservationists and stewards of Block Island’s Southeast Lighthouse, that warn of the catastrophic impact the turbines will have on shoreline viewsheds.

    The Southeast Lighthouse Foundation and the Preservation Society of Newport County, on behalf of the coastal Rhode Island city’s National Historic Landmark districts, including its iconic mansions, contend the adverse visual impacts will have billions of dollars of impact on tourism and property values over the 30-year life of the turbines.

    They cite an internal study by wind farm developer, Danish utility Ørsted, that estimates the annual negative impact on the tourism economy at 15%, which they say is conservative.

    The lawsuits, filed in federal court by the law firm Cultural Heritage Partners, seek an injunction to stop construction of the South Fork Wind Farm and Revolution Wind, with their proposed 112 turbines towering more than 800 feet in height.

    The turbines for both farms are to be assembled at State Pier in New London, although only Revolution Wind is supposed to supply power to Connecticut.

    “Proposed projects will inflict severe and long-lasting effects on the character, community and heritage-tourism-driven economy of Block Island,” says the complaint in the lawsuit by the lighthouse, which is a National Historic Landmark, New England’s tallest.

    “Block Island is obviously not anti-wind energy,” Dr. Gerry Abbott, president of the lighthouse board said in a statement, noting the island hosted the first full-built offshore wind farm.

    “But imagining the impact of an 11,000% increase in the number of visible turbines off our coast and knowing they will remain for the next 30 years ― is nothing short of stunning ― a complete industrialization of our view.”

    Greg Werkheiser, a founding partner of the law firm Cultural Heritage Partners, said that from much of Block Island shoreline where you would see the mass of turbines. He said the law firm has commissioned its own visualizations of what they would look like, and it shows the impact to be far worse than what was presented by Ørsted.

    The lawsuits name as defendants the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and say the government ignored laws that should have taken into account much more of the significant impact the turbines will have on the natural environment and historic resources.

    Werkheiser said the lawsuits were filed now because this is the first time in the process they have been legally permissible, although, he said, his clients repeatedly raised objections to the wind farms during the regulatory review.

    He said they are seeking legally appropriate mitigation of the significant impact of the projects, including compensation for the way they will negatively harm local economies.

    “BOEM has to be honest about the impact, and we want the law to be followed,” Werkheiser said.

    He added that lawsuits from other communities could follow, and his own firm has been working with other potential plaintiffs in New England.

    The National Congress of American Indians, he noted, have called for a moratorium on the wind farms “until BOEM starts doing its job.”

    Given Ørsted’s molasses-slow agreement to finally compensate host community New London for use of State Pier, withholding any deal until the city finally went to court, I don’t see a quick offer of compensation to the plaintiffs in these lawsuits.

    And in light of the company abandoning planned wind farms off New Jersey and repricing others with higher electric rates, the future of U.S. offshore wind looks more tenuous than ever.

    One myth of offshore wind ― that it will be a relatively inexpensive renewable ― is pretty tarnished and about to be shattered. And so is the myth of little visual impact on the horizon.

    So far, the only honest assessment of Ørsted I’ve heard from an American politician of any party came from an angry Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who challenged the company’s competence and credibility when they canceled New Jersey’s farms this fall.

    Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is still in his loving embrace with the foreign utility.

    I wonder if more lawsuits and political pressure will make any difference in how offshore wind does or doesn’t take flight here in the Northeast.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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