CHATHAM – This June, the state will solicit bids seeking offshore wind farms to produce 400 megawatts of electricity. It’s the first of four phases of what state officials hope will be 1,600 megawatts of offshore power; 15 percent of what the state uses annually, enough power to replace what will eventually be lost when Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station shuts down.
Submitting a bid in June will be the first tangible step for a group of Martha’s Vineyard residents who started the Vineyard Power energy cooperative six years ago in response to a lot of the things they didn’t like about the nowdefunct Cape Wind project. It has 1,400 members and claims the cooperative represents 5,000 people on the island.
Richard Andre, president of Vineyard Power, said their prospects improved dramatically when Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation in August that required that power utilities solicit and contract for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power as part of their energy portfolio by 2027.
“Then, we knew we would have a buyer for our power,” Andre said.
Vineyard Power representatives came to the headquarters of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance in Chatham on a stormy Wednesday to get feedback from fishermen.
Perhaps it was fitting that there weren’t many fishermen in the audience, because Andre said that unlike Cape Wind, which was sued by Vineyard fishermen and hotly contested by many Cape fishermen, they haven’t received any negative feedback.
“We identified our site in 2009 as an area with the least amount of fishery conflicts,” Andre said.
The process was helped considerably by the federal government in 2009 when the Bureau of Energy Management mapped out areas of the ocean with good wind and relatively few conflicting uses or environmental concerns. John Pappalardo, CEO of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, was part of the team that helped to eliminate large areas that were valuable for fishing, shellfishing or for fish habitat.
“This zone was much larger. We shaved a huge piece out of it primarily because of scallops,” Pappalardo said.
At over 500 feet tall, the 40 to 70 turbines that would be constructed in the first phase would be spaced more than a half mile apart. Andre told the audience there would be no reduced speed or areas closed to navigation or fishing. It has not been determined yet whether there could be anything like a kelp or mussel farming operation using components of the turbine. There would be money available to reimburse fishermen displaced during construction work.
By locating them 12 miles offshore, Andre said the turbines would only be visible on extremely clear days and, even then, would be far off in the distance.
“We wanted a different model than Cape Wind. We wanted there to be local benefit, local employment, and local input into the project,” Andre told the audience. “We’ve met with over 20 fishing groups since March of 2016.”
Vineyard Power partnered with Vineyard Wind, which holds the lease on the 260 square miles of ocean 12 miles south of the island. Vineyard Wind is a subsidiary of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, a Danish company that invests pension funds from Northern Europe. It has $3.5 billion in assets, Andre said, and is primarily focused on renewable energy projects. CIP has managed and invested in over 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines currently being built in Europe, according to its website.
Three companies, Deepwater Wind, another Danish company, Dong Energy, and Vineyard Power hold the three federal leases in federal waters south of the Vineyard that were designated as appropriate for offshore wind through an ocean zoning process. In September, the three companies signed letters of intent to use the state-run $113 million New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, which had been built in anticipation of the ill-fated Cape Wind offshore wind farm being constructed.
This December, Eversource acquired 50 percent ownership of the offshore wind farm proposed by Dong Energy.
All three offshore wind companies could be submitting bids this summer, Andre said. Price is the primary consideration, and he anticipates the winning bid will be in the mid-teens per kilowatt hour as compared with Cape Wind’s prices, which were over 20 cents. Each subsequent bid phase is required to start at a lower price than the previous ones as improved technology and economies of scale reduce costs. Europe, where they have been producing such power for decades, has seen offshore wind drop to 10 cents, Andre said.
The area south of the Vineyard has been rated the best or second best on the East Coast for the strength and consistency of its wind, Andre told the audience.
Vineyard Wind ships were out on Nantucket Sound this summer and fall doing seismic and sonar testing on the sea bed to determine what type of foundation would be required for the turbines.
Environmental studies of impacts on birds and marine life, and permitting, will continue for another two years. Construction could start as early as 2020 and take two years. It will take about 2,000 construction workers for the first phase, and Andre said the plan is to employ a lot of local workers.
The company with the winning bid would also have to get state permits to run cables, which will be buried 6 feet deep in the sea bed, to the mainland.