FALL RIVER – The head of a Providence offshore wind start-up company with international financial backing likens the location potential for this energy sector to the oil industry decades ago.
“The wind is so good here. It’s like the reason the oil boom happened in Texas,” Jeff Grybowski, Deepwater Wind chief executive officer, told a Herald News editorial board.
“The wind off the coast is world class,” Grybowski said, especially in the Northeast.
During a recent hour-long discussion, Grybowski was joined in the presentation by state Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, and Matthew Morrissey, executive director of Offshore Wind Massachusetts, a New Bedford-based coalition advocating large-scale, competitive, offshore wind energy.
The state’s potential job creation and economic gains, and reversing the region’s skyrocketing energy costs that are the highest in the country when supplies seem virtually certain to drop drastically are prime motivators in the push for renewable wind energy creation from far offshore, Morrissey said.
“It’s really about jobs for companies to invest for this region’s benefit,” said Morrissey, who headed New Bedford’s economic development prior to the past year leading the new organization of which Grybowski is the board president.
A primary focus of their newsroom visit was Haddad’s energy bill that includes requiring utilities to purchase at least 2,000 megawatts of power over 10 years from offshore wind energy producers.
The bill has broad support from local legislators, Haddad said, and it’s among related bills scheduled for legislative hearings Tuesday by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Energy and Utilities at the Statehouse.
Haddad, whose Somerset community has the mega coal-fired power plant Brayton Point in its backyard and scheduled to close in 20 months after 50 years of production, had returned from a five-day trip with fellow legislators and business people to Denmark to explore its offshore wind energy projects.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, was among the legislators that went to Denmark.
“I think wind is really an amazing opportunity – for the region and for Massachusetts,” Haddad said after visiting the country where this renewable energy sector began in 1991 and remains a world leader in offshore wind farm production.
In making their arguments, they used Europe as the model for success in a clean energy sector that’s growing rapidly.
At the outset of this year, 11 European countries had built 74 offshore wind farms with a capacity of 8,045 megawatts from 2,488 turbines, a number that’s climbed to about 3,000 now, according to fact sheets Morrissey shared.
New England produces about 32,000 megawatts of electricity, but faces losing a quarter of it in the next decade, the information said.
With an eye to Brayton Point, with its 1,500 megawatts among 3,500 megawatts statewide slated to retire by 2018 as coal and oil plants continue to shut down, Haddad said her bill seeks “the right balance if we’re going to get to a different place.”
An ISO-New England graph shows how the region’s fuel source to produce electric energy has shifted dramatically in 14 years.
In 2,000, oil was the fuel for 22 percent of electricity, coal 18 percent, and natural gas 15 percent. In 2014, oil comprises just 1 percent and coal 5 percent, while natural gas has tripled to 44 percent. Nuclear and hydro/other renewable sources have remained static.
Haddad said last year the prior administration of Gov. Deval Patrick left production of costly offshore wind farm turbines out of the state requirement for utilities.
To counter that, Haddad said she enlisted “more than 100 people” this year with diverse energy backgrounds and interests to generate ideas and support.
“I feel strongly that wind needs to play a big part,” Haddad said. “It’s a perfect companion for other types of production.”
Solar, hydro and tidal energies should all compete for the balanced composition of the state’s renewable energy package and its commitment to generate at least 20 percent of its power from those sources, she said.
She called her bill “comprehensive,” one that does not build in “winners and losers” and believes it has the bi-partisan attention of Gov. Charlie Baker and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo.
“It’s not asking for the state to invest in this,” she said. “It’s asking for the opportunity to bid into the grid.”
Grybowski explained how his Deepwater Wind – building the country’s first offshore wind farm, a small five-turbine project to produce 30 megawatts off Block Island, Rhode Island – and two other world-experienced offshore wind companies, are well positioned to fill the expected huge energy void.
He said Deepwater, owned by DE Shaw, a large private equity firm, Offshore MW, a project portfolio company under the Blackstone Group that’s the world’s largest private equity firm, and DONG Energy, which has installed 3,000 megawatts or more than one third of the world’s off-shore wind capacity, each have acquired leases with rights to develop approximately 190,000 acres in Atlantic federal waters.
He suggested that working together they could achieve “economies of scale” on multiple projects in the years and decades ahead.
The vast offshore location is the Rhode Island-Massachusetts prime wind energy area, east of Block Island and well south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
Grybowski and Morrissey said essential distinctions of this location from highly publicized and unsuccessful Cape Wind project proposed off the Massachusetts islands show:
• The Cape Wind project, practically discarded, to produce 450 megawatts would have located its turbines in Nantucket Sound within four miles of Cape Cod communities, 5-6 miles from Martha’s Vineyard and 7-8 miles from Nantucket.
• Development rights of the three companies that Morrissey’s OffShore Wind Massachusetts is working with would build its turbines “15-20 miles” offshore and be barely visible. They said that distance is essential to avoid the strong resistance Cape Wind encountered from citizens and officials.
• Being in the middle of the ocean rather than buffered by islands, the powerful south-southwest wind currents coming up and accelerating in the Gulf Stream from Florida would produce better sites with stronger winds and, therefore, more energy.
Each of the three companies would compete to produce about 1,500 megawatts each or roughly 5,000 megawatts spread out in a series of phases, Grybowski said.
With turbines standing 600 feet tall and weighing thousands of tons each, the companies would build “a few hundred at a time” in four or five years for each phase, he said.
The turbine farms are “multi-billion-dollar projects,” Morrissey said. He also emphasized project costs continue to drop significantly as more are produced and demand keeps increasing. Europe expects a 40 percent increase this year from a year ago, Grybowski said.
On a question-answer sheet on related issues they distributed, it said, “Because these offshore wind projects cost many billions of dollars to build, the companies building them need some assurance that they will be able to sell their power to repay their loans and return a profit to their investors.
“That’s why there is a requirement for the utilities to buy at least 2,000 megawatts from offshore wind producers,” it said.
Morrissey said the European Wind Association reported the creation of 2,000 megawatts from offshore wind farms over 10 years required six cities with transmission ports that produced 23,000 new jobs.
Their information highlighted Massachusetts’s leadership in education, advanced manufacturing, bio-technology and fishing to identify offshore wind energy production as a needed and viable opportunity.
They cited U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 80,000 offshore wind jobs could be created by 2030. The critical variable says: “if effective state-level policies are implemented.”
Haddad also noted cable transmission lines for offshore wind energy would be built 30 miles from land under the water. Large land areas by the ocean, like Brayton Point, and those with industrial infrastructure, like New Bedford’s ports, could benefit.
That contrasts with more invasive natural gas pipelines built from New York state or hydroelectric transmission lines installed from Quebec.
On the other hand, offshore wind farms could produce good-paying jobs and investments in Massachusetts by taking advantage of the powerful winds off its coasts.
“I’m perplexed,” Haddad said of the resistance thus far.
Grybowski offered one explanation. “No one’s seen this before,” he said. “They don’t believe it can be done.”
They shared photos and explanations from the trip to Denmark to show offshore wind projects are successfully being built by increasing numbers, saving citizens significant energy costs and producing cleaner environments in contrast to coal and oil power plants.
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