A Big Deal for Right Whales

Vineyard Wind Signs Historic Agreement To Protect Right Whales During Offshore Wind Development

Today offers a unique reason for optimism that offshore wind power can rise to its full potential as a major new energy source for America. The developer of our first large-scale offshore wind project – Vineyard Wind – has agreed to a precedent-setting plan of action to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales as it builds and operates 80+ turbines off the coast of Massachusetts.

This announcement comes at a pivotal moment in America’s offshore wind story. As states reach ever higher for bold climate and clean energy goals, the role offshore wind power must play in our energy future has become increasingly clear. Northeast states have taken historic steps forward to bring this local clean energy resource online, with policy commitments now in place to develop 15,000 megawatts – or enough to power approximately 7.5 million homes – over the next 15 years. The momentum is undeniable.

Vineyard Wind’s commitment to protect right whales couldn’t come at a more important time for this critically endangered species. After the 2018 season where the dwindling population of only 400 right whales produced no calves, this year scientists have already sighted seven! Photos of these precious new babies signal hope for the species’ recovery, while providing a powerful reminder of just how important it is for America’s first wave of offshore wind development to not further jeopardize these animals or prevent them from safely migrating along our busy coastline.

Right whale Catalog #2791 and calf sighted 5NM off Amelia Island, FL – January 7, 2019. Catalog #2791 is at least 22 years old and this is her third known calf. Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA permit 20556-01

For over a decade, the National Wildlife Federation has been advocating for the responsible development of offshore wind power with diverse coalition of environmental, business, labor, fishing and other community leaders. Offshore wind power offers Atlantic Coast states a clean energy solution of unparalleled scale and stands as a beacon of hope for those of us determined to confront the climate crisis that is already impacting wildlife across the globe. Offshore wind power can be developed responsibly in a manner that minimizes impacts to our coastal and marine wildlife, provided siting and project planning decisions are guided by the latest science and input from coastal and marine wildlife conservation experts.

The National Wildlife Federation and our partners at Natural Resource Defense Council and Conservation Law Foundation worked directly with Vineyard Wind  to identify workable, science-based solutions to protect right whales during the construction of this project, including restrictions on foundation installation activities to the times of year when right whales are least likely to be present, vessel speed limits, comprehensive monitoring requirements, and other methods to reduce the impacts of development activities. This agreement is consistent with key principles for right whale protection during the construction and operation of offshore wind power endorsed by 15 wildlife and conservation organizations.

 

“A very big deal”

“This is a very big deal. Scaling up offshore wind in wildlife friendly ways is essential to confronting the climate crisis”  ─ NWF CEO Collin O’Mara, in press conference announcing Vineyard Wind’s commitment to protect right whales  1/25/19

The precedent set by Vineyard Wind’s right whale commitment establishes a strong precedent for right whale protection just as America’s first round of offshore wind projects are moving forward. Seven projects have been selected to provide power to the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, a few of which are planning to be online by 2021 (get the latest at: offshorewind.nwf.org). Getting offshore wind development right for right whales – as Vineyard Wind has done – is essential for the success of all Atlantic offshore wind projects, given the whales’ migration route along the eastern seaboard. As projects advance through the required federal, state, and local permitting processes, a strong commitment to responsible development practices is essential for both protecting wildlife and securing needed public and political support for the many approvals ahead.

Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, taken under NOAA permit 20556-01

Vineyard Wind Raises the Bar

Deepwater Wind set a strong precedent for right whale protection in the development of America’s first offshore wind turbines off the coast of Rhode Island, with a construction schedule timed to avoid key migration periods. Vineyard Wind is building on this foundation and raising the bar with a commitment to a more comprehensive approach for protecting right whales from the construction stage through the lifetime of this much larger project. This is a shining example of the responsible development of offshore wind power at a key moment in right whale conservation, and we look forward to working with all offshore wind developers and state and federal regulators to ensure that all future projects meet this high standard.

The National Wildlife Federation is proud to stand with a broad and diverse coalition of partners along the coast calling for bold action to advance responsibly developed offshore wind power. Please join us!

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Call on the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and your state Governor to ensure responsibly developed offshore wind projects move forward.

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