Youngkin administration warns feds new wind areas could hurt commercial fisheries

Potential new offshore wind sites could cause ‘millions of dollars of negative impact’ to Virginia fishing industries

By: - July 1, 2022 12:03 pm

Turbines from Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project off Virginia Beach. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration told federal officials that large areas of ocean off Virginia being considered as potential offshore wind sites could cause “millions of dollars of negative impact to Virginia’s commercial fishing industries.”

“While supportive of the growth of the offshore wind industry and the opportunities for the commonwealth to provide critical support to the offshore wind industry supply chain and become a key hub for future development, we must ensure any future leasing areas do not detrimentally impact or restrict maritime commerce or commercial navigation,” wrote officials in a June 27 letter to the Bureau of Energy Ocean Management

The letter was signed by Acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles, Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick, Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs Craig Crenshaw and Secretary of Labor Bryan Slater. 

The administration’s comments came in response to a BOEM proposal for a 4 million acre Central Atlantic call area where the federal government could auction off lease areas to offshore wind developers. The public comment period on the draft call area closed Tuesday. 

The Central Atlantic proposal is far larger than the expansion initially envisioned by former Gov. Ralph Northam. In a November 2020 letter to then-Acting Director Walter Cruickshank, Northam formally requested that the federal agency auction off “two additional 100,000-acre wind lease areas off the coast of Virginia.” The state also sent the federal government two potential scenarios for additional lease areas near the existing ones held by Dominion Energy and the state’s energy agency. One of the proposals was identified as having “the least conflict possible with shipping, fishing or marine mammals,” and the other had “minimal conflicts with military operations and shipping” but some conflicts with fisheries.

While recreational fishers have seen some promise in the artificial reefs that can develop around the bases of turbines, offshore wind farms can prevent commercial fishers from operating because of their larger vessels’ inability to navigate through installations, restrictions on equipment use or impacts to marine populations.

In Virginia, scallop, surf clam and other fishers have voiced concerns about the impacts massive new offshore wind areas could have on their industry

Numerous groups and agencies from states around the proposed Central Atlantic call area submitted comments to BOEM asking for changes to the proposed areas amd continued review of where wind turbines should be sited.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and New England Fishery Management Council, which have jurisdiction over 93 species in federal waters from Maine to North Carolina, urged BOEM to exclude areas with notable fisheries from wind development and warned that expansion of offshore wind along the East Coast is occurring too rapidly. 

President Joe Biden’s administration has set a goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. 

With over 25 offshore wind projects along the East Coast currently under review, the fisheries councils said they were “disappointed with the level of environmental review for these projects to date.” 

Both the five state secretaries and the Virginia Department of Energy also emphasized the need to protect ratepayers from “high energy costs.” 

In Virginia, where state regulators oversee electric utilities, the State Corporation Commission must review and approve any increases to customer bills. 

Many commenters on the new call area urged BOEM to work closely with Virginia as it continues to develop potential wind lease sites.   

“The development of additional wind energy areas off the coast of Virginia can continue the tremendous economic opportunity started with earlier leasing rounds,” wrote Will Fediw, interim chair of the Virginia Offshore Wind Development Authority. “As has been the case previously, development should be done in a manner that minimizes impacts to other existing ocean users, many of which greatly contribute to the commonwealth’s economy.” 

The Youngkin administration also concluded that “further collaboration and coordination between the commonwealth, BOEM, other states, and key stakeholders in Virginia during every step in this process moving forward will allow for a final call area and lease conditions that optimize the offshore wind development opportunities.” 

Youngkin previously declined to join an 11-state partnership between East Coast governors and the federal government to speed up offshore wind development. A spokesperson, echoing language used in the secretaries’ comments to BOEM, said the administration “is focused on the economic development opportunities presented by this emerging sector in a way that is consistent with promoting jobs for Virginia and its right-to-work philosophy.”

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.