Editorial: Fishermen worried about wind farms need the public’s support

Editorial: Fishermen worried about wind farms need the public’s support

The Westerly Sun

On the one side, a handful of commercial fishermen who operate from Stonington Borough, the last port in Connecticut with a dock dedicated to their occupation. On the other, Eversource, the largest power supplier in New England, and its partner, a company based in Frederica, Denmark, that has more than 5,600 employees and an enterprise value of $165 billion.

The Constitution Wind project proposed by the two companies is competing for a long-term power supply contract from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection; the winner could be announced in June. According to published reports, the utility and the Danish company, Ørsted (known as DONG Energy until last November), have promised $80 million in annual energy savings, power for 100,000 homes, $16 millon in tax revenue, $4 million to support the state’s “cornerstone programs for low-income families,” $600,000 for energy-focused scholarships, $500,000 for local environmental partnerships, and $2 million to an economic development fund “to spur growth in the local economy.” 

No doubt other bidders are making similar promises. We mention these details because, in a hard-boiled analysis, it’s probably no contest: The sum total of these fishermen’s economic losses from the potential disruption of wind energy infrastructure and operations pale in comparison to the possible benefits. But, this being New England, local considerations can upset the grandest of schemes: Witness the grass-roots organizing a year ago that forced the Federal Railroad Administration to withdraw the Old Saybrook to Kenyon portion of its Northeast Corridor plan.

Commercial fishing is vital to New England’s economy, and its contribution goes beyond its catch. The fishermen and the supply chain that depends on them are the “authentication” behind many other shoreline enterprises. The public in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and other states in the Northeast can be counted upon to support their fishermen. And that’s the point here: To influence the decision-making surrounding wind power development and other issues, the fishermen need to tell their story in an open and honest way, improve public awareness, and rally their fellow citizens to help them out.

State Sen. Heather Somers of Groton must have had something like this in mind when she convened a meeting last week at the Portuguese Holy Ghost Society in Stonington Borough. The topic was the wind farm, and she was there with fellow Republican Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme, First Selectman Rob Simmons, state Port Authority chairman Scott Bates, of Stonington, and Selectman John Prue, who served as moderator. Fisheries experts and fishing association officials served as panelists and they heard from fishermen who expressed, in sometimes eloquent terms, their opinions about what might lie ahead. Seafood wholesaler Mike Gambardella had invited The Sun, but then in an embarrassing moment he said that “fishermen” didn’t want news coverage. 

We obliged, and the fishermen spent an evening preaching to the choir. We can only speculate on what prompted this counterproductive approach: a personal grudge; political hogwash? Really, it’s not important. What was important was the information that the speakers shared on  the turbines’ effects on wave action and squid reproduction; the impediments created by the underwater infrastructure; and other threats. People need to hear about these things and demand better information from the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other authorities.

Even such basic facts as the project’s location are not well known at this stage. It has been spoken of as “Connecticut’s first offshore wind farm,” but it’s not in Connecticut. Ørsted’s chief spokeswoman confirmed in an email to an Australian journalist that “We will be deploying additional generation within  our existing federal lease area” to supply Connecticut utilities. The 200-megawatt Constitution Wind, part of Bay State Wind, would be built south of Martha’s Vineyard. 


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