The stage is now set for the development of a massive swath of ocean south of the Vineyard, as the federal government pushes forward with plans to open a 1,300-square-mile plot to wind farm developers beginning 14 miles offshore.
The development area has been cut down from 3,000 square miles, after two years of work collecting comments from fishermen, environmentalists, Wampanoags, local representatives and commercial developers. After an announcement last Friday that it would conduct an environmental assessment of the area, and a call for information this week from potential developers and stakeholders, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is once again gauging interest in the area.
Some 10 wind farm developers have previously eyed the waters south of the Vineyard, including Cape Wind’s parent company Energy Management, Fishermen’s Energy, NRG Bluewater Wind, Neptune Wind, Ibredrola, Condor Wind Energy, Free Flow Power, U.S. Wind and OffshoreMW which is partnering with the Island’s own community-based energy cooperative Vineyard Power to develop up to 1,000 megawatts of energy on the high seas.
In a conversation with the Gazette yesterday, Massachusetts Undersecretary of Energy Barbara Kates-Garnick was upbeat about the economic opportunities the new federal wind area might provide the commonwealth.
“It’s very exciting in multiple ways,” she said. “It places us as a leader in offshore energy. The Department of Energy projects that nationally you’ll get about 43,000 jobs associated with offshore wind over the next 10 years and this will make sure we’re a player in that job growth. But then when you build an industry you end up with a huge supply chain from trucking the blades and all the materials to the development of the ports. You also attract research and development, so in addition to the truckers and installers you have a lot more engineers focused on Massachusetts.”
While the ocean development is planned for south of the Vineyard, some Islanders have expressed concern that the Island itself would be shut out of the purported financial windfall. But leaders at Vineyard Power say they expect to bring over $1 million in job creation to a new operations center based in Vineyard Haven harbor to support a 10-turbine 40-megawatt array on ocean water.
“There would be a lot of new work on the harbor to accommodate three new repair and maintenance vessels that would go out to the array every day,” Vineyard Power president Richard Andre said this week. “We’d have to have an office with energy traders, accountants, customer service representatives, engineers, captains, administrators, billing, you name it. It’s a small little utility.”
Mr. Andre predicted Vineyard Power’s array could grow to 100 megawatts over a 30-year period as the cooperative begins to capture demand for electric cars and home heating.
While the operations would be Vineyard-based, Vineyard Power hopes to launch its staging and construction out of the proposed $35 million New Bedford Marine Commerce Harbor Terminal. Gov. Deval Patrick has touted the facility as a launch pad for the commonwealth’s nascent wind industry and the first U.S. facility capable of assembling offshore wind projects. If constructed, pending approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, the project is expected to bring up to 1,000 jobs. But yesterday New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell downplayed the role his city would play in development on the water off the Vineyard.
“The city of New Bedford is building out a cargo terminal whose main purpose in my view is to support export and import capacity for our harbor,” he told the Gazette. “If any wind farms get off the ground, that terminal would be able to support them, but the principal purpose of that terminal is cargo.”
He added: “New Bedford is one of the few industrial ports on the East Coast that’s close to the proposed wind farms; we’re obviously in a position where we can serve as an assembly point and delivery point for those wind farms. But the project right now as I see it is as primarily as a cargo port – and then if any of the wind projects get off the ground we’ll be in a position to support them.”
Other players are less bashful about their role in getting wind power off the ground off the Vineyard. Last Friday’s announcement was held at the new $60 million Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown, the world’s largest wind blade testing facility which opened last spring thanks to a generous grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus package. Other players in the commonwealth hoping to take part in the wind bonanza include the German engineering giant and turbine manufacturer Siemens, which recently opened its North American offshore wind headquarters in Boston, wind blade manufacturer TPI Composites Inc., which opened a facility in Fall River last summer, and Middleborough-based monopole manufacturer Mass Tank, among others.
“Mass Tank is the kind of company that is ready and willing to retool itself,” said Ms. Kates-Garnick, the state undersecretary. “It’s a steel fabrication company. You have specific industries that can be retooled that have core competencies in these areas.”
But while last Friday’s announcement was accompanied by much fanfare, Mr. Andre said it is important to remember that it could well be a decade before a single blade is turning. The environmental assessment alone is expected to take a full year, and if it uncovers any major impacts such as to right whale migration for instance, the leasing process could be delayed by another two years. Once the government begins issuing leases, developers have another year to submit a site assessment plan and construction and operations plan. After that, the Bureau of Ocean Management would require a site-specific environmental impact statement that would likely take up to two years to complete. Mr. Andre said it could be 2022 before his turbines are up and running.
Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman, leading Vineyard fisheries advocate and member of the fisheries advisory group appointed by the Bureau of Ocean Management, echoed Mr. Andre’s remarks.
“We’ve been discussing this for some time and so now they are moving on to the next step. But there is still a long way to go,” said Mr. Doty following the press conference in Charlestown last Saturday.
He said the advisory group has called a meeting for Feb. 13 to discuss the latest developments.
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