NEW BEDFORD – The name of the game in the offshore wind power industry in the Northeast is becoming “data collection.”
About 75 people filled the downtown library’s third-floor meeting room Tuesday evening to hear state energy officials, scientists and developers lay out their plans and let the gathering know how much data they need, how much is being collected by research vessels and buoys, and how little data is actually available.
What is propelling them now is the new state energy statute that mandates there be 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy purchased within the state, creating a market that now has three enthusiastic developers working in Massachusetts.
The process of approving and siting offshore turbines is a lengthy and complex one. The three firms are busy setting out scientific measuring devices to thoroughly examine how much wind there is, how high, and how near fragile ecosystems or endangered marine mammals could approach.
As last week’s Northeast Right Whale Symposium at the whaling museum spelled out, there is particular concern for that species, of which only about five dozen have managed to be counted.
The goal of the wind developers is to avoid whale strikes at any cost.
Tyler Studds of Marine Wildlife Surveys spelled out how aircraft are being used to spot marine mammals while other testing analyzes the sea bottom, “metocean data,” as he called it, a combination of meteorological and ocean.
Research efforts are becoming intense, what with data insufficient in the areas where the government has issued leases to the three firms: Deepwater Wind, Danish Oil and Gas (DONG) and Vineyard Wind.
It is roughly five-year process to obtain the leases, collect the data, do the engineering and send it all to the regulators at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy (BOEM) and the state’s Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, with Bruce Carlisle as its director.
Those attending the meeting listened intently during the two-hour presentation but asked few questions.
One who did was a critic who zeroed in on what he sees as a boondoggle in the South Terminal construction, way over budget, without cranes, with a hurricane barrier gate too narrow for the wind power ships, and with no contracted operator.
Bill White, senior director for Offshore Wind Sector Development at Mass Clean Energy Center, put up a list of contracts in place at the terminal now, and said that some 80 percent of the wind power industry’s fleet will fit through the barrier. Cranes, he said, will be supplied by the developers once they determine what they need. The cost escalation, from $35 million to $113 million, was made known through an open and transparent process, he said.
Another theme at the session was jobs. Paul Vigeant, vice president for workforce development at Bristol Community College, described how the school is ramping up training for wind energy jobs that will arrive in a very few years.
White said that the sheer number of jobs that could be taken by blue-collar and white-collar workers, “This is a big, big job opportunity,” he said.
Another emerging concern is the potential routes that the power cables will take to get to substations on the shore in places like the Cape Cod Canal electric plant and Brayton Point in Somerset.
The routes must be designed with little impact on the ocean environment, and a minimal risk of having someone’s anchor pick up a high voltage power cable.
Carlisle called the process “evolving” as it proceeds. The public sessions will be held on a regular basis, officials said.
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