A group opposed to wind projects off the coast of Massachusetts released a report on Tuesday that documents wind energy developers’ contributions to environmental groups in the state, the donations that the report’s authors say cast questions on the ability of groups to analyze the impacts of wind projects. have on the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The report, released by the Save Right Whales Coalition, lists $4.2 million between wind developers like Vineyard Wind, Bay State Wind and Orsted to Massachusetts environmental groups like the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the New England Aquarium and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. .
The flow of money, said coalition member Lisa Linowes, raised a “red flag” for potential conflicts of interest when it comes to investigating the environmental impacts of offshore wind development in places where the North Atlantic right whale resides. The whale is one of the most endangered large whale species in the world, according to NOAA Fisheries.
“The public has come to trust the word of these organizations that when they say wind turbines can be safely installed in and near waters where right whales live, breed, feed, they will be safe,” Linowes said. “Based on their public statements and based on the donations…we should question the priorities of these organizations.”
The Save Right Whales Coalition study indicates that the New England Aquarium received a “pledge” of $250,000 in 2018 from Bay State Wind, a joint venture between Orsted and Eversource during the 2019 procurement process for the offshore wind energy, an undisclosed amount from Vineyard Wind in 2019, and an undisclosed amount in 2020 from Equinor, an oil company with offshore wind businesses.
New England Aquarium spokeswoman Pam Bechtold Snyder said the aquarium has not received any donations from offshore wind developers, but instead has contracts and agreements to conduct research scientists.
In a statement, Snyder said the aquarium helps support the “responsible development” of offshore wind through independent research into vulnerable ocean species that reside in future wind farm areas.
“Wind energy is an important tool for providing clean, carbon-free energy and ultimately minimizing the impacts of climate change, especially for protected species such as the North Atlantic right whale,” says the press release. “The aquarium is committed to protecting the blue planet and will continue to provide the expertise and best science available to ensure that the growth of ocean industries and the blue economy is balanced with the best possible management and protection of the planet. ocean and its fauna.”
The report is based on publicly available press releases from wind companies and environmental groups, donation announcements, annual reports and, where necessary, the group contacted environmental groups to validate donations, Linowes said.
“The public needs to know, we want to know, whether or not these organizations are largely working for the wind companies or at least with an agenda on climate change and maybe sacrificing the right whale,” Linowes said.
The report says the Environmental League of Massachusetts received a donation ranging from $5,000 to $9,000 and event sponsorship in 2020 from Vineyard Wind. FirstLight Power Resources, a renewable energy provider, also donated more than $10,000 to the organization in 2020, according to the study.
Environmental League of Massachusetts spokeswoman Ellen Macaulay said the organization advocates for a clean energy future “where protecting wildlife and the environment is an essential component of offshore wind development.” As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Macaulay said ELM’s policy decisions are made independent of funding sources.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our oceans and wildlife. The waters off the coast of New England are among the fastest warming in the world, causing profound impacts on wildlife and their habitats,” Macaulay said in a statement. “Decarbonizing our grid is critical to New England’s efforts to combat climate change. Responsibly developed offshore wind will be the backbone of this strategy and will be key to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, which is an existential threat to wildlife and our communities.
The report says the Falmouth-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, a private, nonprofit research group studying marine science and engineering, received in or after 2018 a $500,000 donation from Orsted, the company Danish company that owns and operates the Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute spokeswoman Suzanne Pelisson said the institute adheres to a strict code of scientific independence and integrity to provide research-based scientific advice on wind energy development.
“Industry has no control over the research, the conclusions reached during the research, or the dissemination or communication of research results,” Pelisson said. “The WHOI search does not constitute an endorsement of any company or industry.”
Concerns about the impacts of offshore wind developments on right whale populations and their habitats have permeated renewable energy discussions for years in New England.
In August 2021, Nantucket Residents Against Turbines — which shares at least one member with the Right Whales Coalition — filed a federal lawsuit to stop construction of the Vineyard Wind I project, arguing that federal agencies violated laws to protect residents. endangered species like right whales.
Vineyard Wind has previously agreed to a number of measures to protect whales during construction of the wind farm off Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
Among these was a commitment to invest $3 million “to develop and deploy technologies that ensure increased protection for North Atlantic right whales and other marine mammals as the U.S. offshore wind industry continues to grow. “, according to an agreement between Vineyard Wind and several environmental organizations. .
Mary Chalke, member of Save Right Whales and Nantucket Residents Against Turbines, said the ocean between Nantucket, between Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island “is such an amazing, pristine and special resource because it is home to such rich biodiversity that many other regions lost.”
Chalke said the first offshore wind projects in the region will serve as a “test bed” or experiment that will provide data on the impacts they have on whales that will be used to further regulate the industry.
“Whether these environmental groups and others take money from wind companies and it goes towards impact studies, or if they partner with wind companies for these studies when the results will be used to develop regulation of the offshore wind industry in the future, it calls into question the impartiality and legitimacy of the studies,” Chalke said.
According to the Save Right Whales report, the Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Division received a $201,207 grant from Shell through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The division, according to a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, received the grant to develop a framework for ropeless fishing in New England.
“The program aims to advance the Sustainable Fisheries Goals of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by partnering with fishers, stakeholders, state agencies and fisheries information networks to systematically integrate technology into collection of data and observations on fishing, and to rationalize the management and use of data for the management of fishing”. the agency said.
(Copyright (c) 2022 State House News Service.