More than 15 years ago, Brian Braginton-Smith of West Yarmouth came forward with an idea to meld wind power and aquaculture in what he envisioned as an “ocean ranch.”
Mr. Braginton-Smith’s proposal was the seed for what became the controversial proposal by Cape Wind Associates to place 130 wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal south of Cape Cod.
The visionary now has separated himself from Cape Wind, saying he is concerned about the impact such a project would have on what he sees as an environmentally fragile fishing ground.
But Mr. Braginton-Smith remains intrigued by the potential of an ocean ranch. He’s in touch with scientists and fishing advocates about an experimental station that would blend renewable energy production with aquaculture — possibly in federal waters south of the Vineyard.
Project details will be unveiled this spring. But as it stands now, Mr. Braginton-Smith said he anticipates that the government, not private investors, will back the experiment.
Much of the impetus came in the last several months. It started with a teleconference call this past October between top administrators at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coastal Zone Management program, and fisheries and energy experts.
The discussion initially was tied to the 10th anniversary of the National Ocean Conference and what might be done to move ahead.
Over the course of the call, Mr. Braginton-Smith said he got a chance to talk about his old idea of the ocean ranch.
“We found there was a shared vision,” Mr. Braginton-Smith said. He said the federal oceanic agency is strongly interested in moving forward and doing something about the need for new energy sources, not to mention to address the lingering problem of solving the decline of fish stocks in area waters.
Mr. Braginton-Smith said the experiment offers ways to explore uses of wave and wind energy and aquaculture. The idea also plays into a growing community interest in a energy zone in federal waters south of Nantucket, a zone suggested by Cong. William Delahunt.
Mr. Braginton-Smith said this is a project that will use federal waters for public good.
He said a lot of worthwhile science can be derived from an experimental station in an oceanic area acceptable to communities. Down the road, he sees platforms paying for themselves by the energy they generate and the fish they raise.
While the federal oceanic agency is thinking on a national plan for hosting this kind of research and work, southeastern Massachusetts waters already are the center for a much cutting-edge science, such as by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.
“It probably should happen at our neck of the woods,” he said. “These initiatives are compatible with many of Congressman Delahunt’s efforts to bring offshore renewable resources to our region.”
Chilmark selectman Warren Doty has been working on local aquaculture initiative to save Menemsha as a commercial fishing village. He said he and other local fishermen would welcome this kind of research to the area. He said he especially likes the potential location south of the Island.
Vineyard fishermen are opposed to Cape Wind project at Horseshoe Shoal because of the sensitive location, Mr. Doty said.
“Horseshoe Shoals and Nantucket Sound is the spawning grounds for conch, sea bass and squid and fluke. One hundred and thirty turbines would disrupt that area of fishing,” he said.
“Aquaculture south of the Vineyard and south of Noman’s is a good place,” Mr. Doty said.
Don’t look for any immediate drawings of wind turbines or platforms soon. Mr. Braginton-Smith said the next step involves a meeting in Washington, D.C., in February to plot out the overall scope of the project. “We have no idea at this stage of what size it would be,” he said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Braginton-Smith said: “A year from now, we’ll be working on the project’s design.” Two years from now, Mr. Braginton-Smith said the federal government will bring in private and public partners.
“This will be a collaboration by the federal government in concert with private industry,” he said. “You are probably talking a three to five-year plan,” he said.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution already has a platform south of the Vineyard that hosts a number of different scientific projects, including research to help the U.S. Navy.
Mr. Braginton-Smith said he sees offshore platforms as places hosting a lot of science, powered by the electricity generated either through wind and waves.
He said such a platform will be compatible with the environment and the nearby communities.
Mr. Braginton-Smith envisions a public conference sometime in March or April where Cape and Islands residents will be invited to ask questions and participate in the project.
Bringing aquaculture together with wind technology isn’t new, according to Scott Lindell, the director of the scientific aquaculture program at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.
“There are initiatives to combine the two in Germany, where they are more mature than we are here,” Mr. Lindell said. “This makes tremendous sense.”
At the state level, he said, movement already is occurring.
“There are already initiatives in Rhode Island to combine the two,” Mr. Lindell said. “Their state support is way ahead of Massachusetts.”