Clouds have gathered and a little of that pre-storm feeling of electricity is in the air, but whether the offshore wind industry in Massachusetts will grow into a hurricane of turbine-spinning development or simply blow over, with barely a breeze, remained uncertain at a Wednesday meeting of wind power players in Falmouth.
But if steel gets in the water, as offshore wind developers say, it could be a very big storm.
“There’s a significant amount of power potential,” said Bill White, senior director of offshore wind development for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. “If a significant build-out is made in these areas…we’re talking about potentially powering half the homes in Massachusetts.”
White was speaking to a Holiday Inn ballroom full of federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) staff; representatives of offshore wind developers and governmental entities on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and elsewhere; other industry stakeholders; and about a dozen public onlookers.
Representatives of RES America Development, DONG Energy and OffshoreMW – the three companies involved in two offshore wind leases about 12 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard – introduced themselves Wednesday and talked about potential long-term plans for development. But all three declined to mention specific dates or timetables.
Tristan Israel, a Tisbury selectman, cut directly to the chase by asking when Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod might see some new jobs.
“It’s very early days … we’ve only recently been awarded the lease,” said Carolyn Heeps, RES’s development strategy director for North America. “It’s far to soon to be able to identify what we’re going to be doing in the future, with regards to where those jobs and deployment and supply chain will develop.”
Erich Stephens, executive vice president of New Jersey-based OffshoreMW, said the same, noting, “It’s early to be thinking about details of construction.”
RES America Development paid $281,285 in BOEM’s Jan. 29 auction for a wind power development lease spanning 187,523 acres, or about 293 square miles, in the Massachusetts Wind Energy Area. RES America said earlier this month that it would transfer that lease to DONG Energy of Denmark, pending BOEM approval.
OffshoreMW paid the minimum asking price of $166,886, in that same auction, for a lease on 166,886 acres adjacent to the RES lease.
BOEM renewable energy project coordinator Jessica Stromberg said Wednesday that the developers now have a year to create site assessment plans. That’s followed by a five-year term to conduct site assessments and create construction and operation plans, followed by a 25-year operating term. Extensions or adjustments could accompany each phase, she said.
Stephens said Offshore MW’s site assessment work likely wouldn’t begin this summer or fall – probably next spring, he said.
RES America has said that wind power development in its lease area, through a partnership with DONG Energy, could generate more than 1,000 megawatts from turbines to be built after 2020.
Development of the offshore wind industry is vital for the future of New Bedford’s Marine Commerce Terminal, which was designed to serve as a staging area for offshore wind development.
“I think the people of New Bedford and SouthCoast should be excited about the fact that we have three very experienced offshore wind developers,” White said. “They would absolutely need to use New Bedford.”
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center manages the terminal and, along with New Bedford port leaders and others, currently is reviewing bids for operators. An operator could be named in late spring or early summer.
“I think the future is bright for New Bedford, if the offshore wind industry does emerge,” White said, adding that heavy cargo and other uses will keep the terminal active in the meantime.
Stephens said Wednesday that OffshoreMW is backed by The Blackstone Group, a multinational private equity firm. Heeps said that DONG Energy, with which RES has a long relationship, is “the world’s leading offshore wind developer,” with extensive experience in Europe.
Matthew Morrissey, former executive director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council and former adviser to the city’s Wind Energy Center, said the presence of such large-scale wind energy developers at Wednesday’s meeting boded well for the state.
“Massachusetts has drawn the interest of the most experienced offshore wind development companies in the world,” Morrissey said. “The three companies who presented today – combined with Deepwater Wind, who won their competitive bid nearly a year ago – allows the discussion of offshore wind in the coming months to look much different than it has in years past.”
Morrissey now heads Offshore Wind Massachusetts, a statewide industry association. All four companies involved in developing offshore wind in the region – RES America, DONG Energy, OffshoreMW and Deepwater Wind – are represented on the association’s board.
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