By John Pappalardo
Who on this planet has the most experience with wind, and wind power?
History answers that question: Fishermen.
And who in our communities understands our near shore waters best, crisscrossing them hundreds of days a year, continuing to make a living from their vitality?
The answer to that is a repeat.
So plans slowly moving forward by multiple developers to build big wind farms off the New England coast both intrigue and worry a lot of people in the fishing community. And by all rights, fishermen should play a key role in deciding exactly how these wind farms should be built, if they should be built at all.
Governor Charlie Baker said as much the other day on a visit to New Bedford, and that’s a good thing. But as he would readily admit, after the photo op and press conference wraps up the work gets harder, the details more devilish.
We see no place for big petroleum exploration offshore. We see no place for big petroleum power plants in our communities. And we see no appetite for major new gas pipelines to run through our cities and towns.
That leaves us with solar, wind, and hydro.
Of the three, I happen to like solar best. It’s decentralized, uses fewer moving parts, the technology is getting better all the time, the environmental benefits are great, and the handful of panels on my roof prove what a cool feeling it is to see my electric bills near zero, my investment paying back every month.
But solar alone won’t be enough to power us now, if ever.
For industrial-scale wind production to work, it needs to be where the wind really blows, and where neighbors don’t have to live in sight of the turbines. That’s offshore.
But to use the legalistic term, fishermen pre-exist. We’ve been working and passing through these areas for generations, centuries. We have fed millions of people with our efforts. And when wind turbines rust and topple, we fully expect to keep on keeping on.
So a lot of what this comes down to, push to shove, is access.
Fishermen have been promised, in meeting after meeting, that wind “farms” will not deny them access to grounds around the proposed turbines. We’ve been promised that the rectangular grids of poles supporting whirring blades will be spaced far enough apart to allow commercial work between. We’ve been promised that the checkerboard will be aligned to make transit easier, with clear lanes, rather than a staggered obstacle course. We’ve been told that the poles often create new habitat, mini-reefs for a variety of fish, and there won’t be wide circular buffer zones that keep everyone away.
And we’ve been told that the underwater cables bringing windpower to shore will be buried deep and well, that the bottom will be returned to how it was, and when these cables come ashore they won’t interfere with traditional work and travel around our ports.
All well and good. But forgive us if we remain skeptical. The way this process is unfolding, with separate developers and plans side by side, trying to keep track of all the details is another fulltime job without a salary. Public officials, state and fed, know this and are trying to streamline the process. That, like Governor Baker’s promise, is good.
In return we’ll do our best to stay engaged, communicating our bottom line:
Wind power’s promise is great. Just keep the promises that have been made to the community who was working with wind power long before there was such a thing as a grid.