One of the many nice things about living on the Island is that we have a much better view of the stars at night than most of the eastern mainland because of our dark skies, especially out over the ocean.

That is set to be severely damaged later this year as the first 62 of what may be hundreds of offshore wind turbines are built in a huge area of ocean to our south. To put in perspective the area of the seabed that will be affected, the first phase Vineyard Wind turbine field is roughly the size of Martha’s Vineyard. But their full lease block is 167,000 acres or three times the size of the Island, according to federal lease data. That’s less than a quarter of the total area south of the Island that has been leased, however, which spans more than 100 miles from end to end.

The wind turbine generator enclosures will be atop towers about 450 feet above the water — the height of a 35-story office building. All 62 of them are planned to have extremely bright red aeronautical beacons flashing on and off. As acknowledged in the visual impact assessment included in the federal permit documentation: “These lights will be visible from all coastal locations where daytime views of WTG [wind turbine generator] nacelles occur.” That’s the entire southern shore of the Island. What the assessment doesn’t say is that the scattered light will be visible inland from any place on the Island that has a clear view of the night sky to the south. There will additional lighting closer to the sea surface from the service platforms and marine navigation lights that will also contribute to lighting up the night sky.

The Vineyard Wind turbine field will be light pollution on steroids. The aerobeacons will be far above the visual horizon, which from the beach is about 30 miles for a tower of that height. They will be visible at even greater distances inland from higher ground. The bright lights will reflect off clouds, mist and fog and scatter widely. I suspect it will be a great shock to many people when they realize just how starkly visible the purportedly “out of sight out of mind” wind farms prove to be. Even the five much smaller wind turbines off Block Island can easily be seen scattering light in the sky from Newport, Point Judith and Montauk, which are about the same distance away as the Vineyard Wind project is from here. Vineyard Wind will have a vastly greater impact on the night sky with more than 12 times as many turbines that are nearly twice as high — and it is only the beginning, as the other large wind projects in the queue get under way over the next several years.

The European owners of Vineyard Wind want everyone to think they are sensitive stewards of the environment and bring many benefits to the community. It would be a relatively simple matter for them to greatly reduce the light pollution from their facility. But they don’t seem to care in the least. Their excuse is no doubt that “we’re just following the Federal Aviation Administration rules.” However, those FAA rules were developed years ago for tall structures in urban areas or isolated structures, not vast fields of offshore wind turbines.

There are two mitigation measures that could be implemented at relatively little cost. One would be to greatly reduce the number of aerobeacons so that only the towers marking the boundaries of the turbine field are lit. The second mitigation measure would be to illuminate the aerobeacons only if there are any aircraft in the vicinity to which they might pose a safety risk. This is a very easy thing to do with current technology. Airplanes and helicopters have transponders that constantly transmit their position, altitude, course and speed. The wind farm could be equipped with a receiver that would automatically switch on the aerobeacons if an aircraft was approaching a safety zone, which might be below 2,000 feet and within five or 10 miles. That would be very, very seldom given that the turbines are in an area where planes normally are at greater altitude. The flashing aeronautical beacons could remain dark most of the time. These mitigation strategies would need to be worked out with the FAA, but that should not be a major obstacle since safe operation of aircraft can still be ensured. Indeed, the federal government should be very supportive since it will reduce one impact of the wind farms and avoid creating public concern. There are already examples in other parts of the country of regulations designed to reduce the light pollution from wind farms along these lines.

We have made the choice as a nation to provide billions of dollars in government subsidies and create a highly favorable regulatory process for these enormous industrial developments in our pristine near-coastal waters. There was never a real debate as to whether it was worth the environmental and economic costs because the financial and industrial backers of the wind farms and their supporters positioned these developments as critical to slowing climate change. The federal regulatory agencies and the government of the commonwealth make no pretence of objectivity. They are openly boosters who view their primary duty as paving the way for the offshore wind industry, even going so far as to grant Vineyard Wind permission to harass or kill nearly two dozen endangered right whales. However, unlike other aspects of these projects such as their location in critical marine habitat areas, the light pollution from the wind turbines is something that can be mitigated with no consequences for electricity production and an insignificant financial impact. Indeed, the developers might save money by producing less light pollution since they will need fewer aerobeacons and use much less electricity to illuminate them.

Vineyard Wind should take the initiative to voluntarily pursue mitigation measures for the massive light pollution its turbine field will produce. It can demonstrate that its European owners really do care about what happens here and not just about the billions in profits they will harvest. They can show leadership in the industry and serve as a model that the Federal government can adopt for other projects. Now is the time for them to step up.

Fred Khedouri lives in Chilmark.