CHATHAM – The proposed Cape Wind project has long been becalmed in Nantucket Sound, but just beyond Martha’s Vineyard three possible wind farms, with turbines over 500 feet high, might be spinning in the breeze within the next decade.
This newest generation of turbines stand more than 500 feet high and can produce 6 megawatts of power – about three times as much as each of Cape Wind’s original 130 turbines would’ve produced.
“You will see them,” said Richard Andre of Vineyard Power at a presentation at Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance in Chatham last Wednesday. “But when Cape Wind was proposed each turbine was 2 to 3 megawatts. Now they’re six so you need half the turbines to produce the same amount of electricity.”
Cape Wind was moving with the times as well and had up-graded to 3.6-megawatt turbines in the last proposal.
Vineyard Power is an electricity cooperative partnered with Vineyard Wind, a Danish company that is eligible to bid when Massachusetts solicits bids for an unknown number megawatts later this year.
“Vineyard Power is a co-op representing 5,000 residents on the Vineyard,” Andre explained. “We got involved in 2009 as a response to Cape Wind and formed the cooperative. Vineyard Wind, formerly OffshoreMW is one of three leaseholders in federal waters. The Department of the Interior intends to lease the ocean for wind development off Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.”
Federal waters begin three miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard but worries about the view-shed pushed the to-be-leased acreage 12-nautical miles offshore to the south. The lease area was carved up into quarters and an auction was held in January of 2015. Vineyard Wind and Baystate Wind each took one quarter, the other sections were unsold. To the west of this lease area lies another lease zone overseen by Rhode Island and Deepwater Wind won leases there.
The Fishing Alliance was hosting the forum to inform fishermen and other interested parties on what was happening, how it differs from Cape Wind and how it might impact fishing and navigation.
“Our model is all about local benefits and the developer recognizes local input is important,” Andre said. “We’re constantly looking for feedback.”
After years of comments and feedback the planned lease area was trimmed in half, with the Nantucket Shoals removed, primarily due to fishery and shipping concerns. In 2016 Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, a Danish Company, acquired 100-percent of Vineyard Wind. Denmark is a leader in offshore wind, Baystate Wind is also owned by a Danish company. CIP invests on behalf of 21 pension funds and manages $3.5 billion in assets.
Andre said most of the fishing in the lease area is gill nets and lobster pots. The fishermen come from New Bedford to Chatham and move through the area seasonally.
“I wouldn’t say there’s tremendous activity in our area,” he noted. “There’s a lot of transient traffic, scallopers going through. We did see some squidders.”
Vineyard Wind currently has survey ships out checking the sea bottom and the federal permitting process will roll on through 2019. After that is construction (2020-21) and operation (2022-23).
“The lease is in federal waters but eventually we’ll go through state waters to connect to the grid,” Andre pointed out. “Last year Governor Baker signed a bill requiring National Grid and Eversource to purchase offshore wind and that will be done in June. Although we had a lease we didn’t really have a customer (until then). So once that happened we began to do survey work.”
The boats did geophysical and geotechnical work boring 240 feet into the seabed. The eventual electric connection could be at the same location in Barnstable where Cape Wind was going to go ashore. Most likely the cable would run through the Muskeget Chanel east of Martha’s Vineyard. Ideally they’d be buried six feet into the sea floor.
“Each (wind) project would employ up to 2000 construction workers,” Andre noted.
The three wind farms would probably be built sequentially, when one is done construction would start on the next. The lease to operate would run 25 years until 2047. Vineyard Wind is required to have a decommissioning plan after that.
The state will eventually auction off 1600 megawatts of production or 15 percent of the state demand.
“The actual potential is three times that,” Andre declared.
He believes off shore wind is the future.
“New England is populated. Land-based wind has that conflict. There’s flicker, sound, visual impact. And the wind is much better offshore. You can get more electricity from the same turbine because there is a stronger steadier wind,” Andre reflected. “So you can space them farther apart. This area has the second strongest wind on the east coast.”
Andre conceded wind power would raise local electrical bills by a couple of dollars a year. In Europe where economies of scale are reached the electricity is about 10 cents per kilowatt hour.
“It’s will be expensive in the beginning but the benefit is once you build the far, it never goes up in price. The price on day one is the price in 20 years,” he said. “So the benefit is price stability and you’re also addressing ocean acidification and climate change.”
The deeper parts of the lease (30 miles offshore) may require floating turbines and that technology is still a work in process. So whatever turbines are built would initially be placed in shallower waters.
Most of the lease area is in 40 meters or more of water.
“We don’t know the foundation type yet. It could be 200 feet down into the seabed,” Andre noted.
There won’t be any navigational exclusions and fishing can continue in the lease zone. They’ll use bio-degradable lubricants to keep the turbines running.
Andre said the state would most likely auction off 400 mw this year. That would coincide to around 65 turbines.
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