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European countries have been harnessing energy in offshore wind farms since 1991, but to date, Massachusetts has yet to take advantage of the resource available off its ample coastline.
That is expected to change in the next few years, however, as three wind energy developers plan to install the state’s first offshore wind farms about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
The designated development area covers more than 840,000 acres and is under the jurisdiction of the federal government, being more than three miles beyond the coast.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center hosted a meeting on Tuesday, May 16, at the Falmouth Holiday Inn to update the public on the state of offshore wind energy development off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
About 70 people attended the meeting, which featured presentations from representatives of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and offshore wind developers.
Offshore Wind Industry
Massachusetts has been working on offshore wind initiatives over the last six to eight years, but wind power is still a relatively new technology in the United States.
“Hopefully we have let the Europeans make all the mistakes in the industry, and we can benefit from them,” said William H. White Jr., MassCEC senior director of offshore wind sector development.
Despite the late start, Massachusetts is specially poised to take advantage of wind energy because of its access to the coast. Mr. White said that Massachusetts has the largest federal planning area available for offshore wind development compared to other states.
In addition, according to an average wind energy map produced by National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Massachusetts coastal area has one of the highest wind resources in all of the United States.
Measurements in the federal wind development areas have clocked speeds up to 10.46 meters per second, about 23 miles per hour; Mr. White said that Europeans have been “amazed by the resource out there,” and he said that wind speeds could be even higher further off the coast.
Although wind energy is a higher-cost technology compared to other industries such as coal or natural gas, Mr. White said that the industry has seen an almost one-third cost reduction in offshore wind technology since 2012.
In addition, unlike other industries, Massachusetts has the opportunity to create the energy within the commonwealth itself.
“We pretty much import all the fuel that powers our economy and our homes in Massachusetts, so this idea of actually making our own electricity, our own power—of Massachuetts-made energy—is obviously an attractive concept,” Mr. White said.
If the industry takes off, Mr. White said that could mean significant job creation in the state.
Almost 1.4 million acres of federal waters have been leased out for wind energy development in the Atlantic Ocean to date. An existing 12 leases, soon to be 13, have generated enough energy to power 5 million homes.
Three developers that have entered into lease agreements for blocks of the Massachusetts planning area through a federal procurement process presented project plans during the meeting on Tuesday, May 16. Two of those developers have ties to European energy companies.
Deepwater Wind New England LLC has a lease on 97,498 acres of federal waters in the northwesternmost portion of the designated development area.
The Rhode Island-based company boasts the first offshore wind farm in the United States, which is Block Island Wind Farm, and the first utility-scale offshore wind farm in the nation as well.
The company has offices in Massachusetts, and places an emphasis on how the wind farm could bring benefits to the Massachusetts region: vice president of permitting and environmental affairs Aileen Kenney said on Tuesday that the company aims to create jobs for people in the region, and hopes to sell its power to Massachusetts in the future.
Deepwater Wind is a proponent of smaller, more modestly sized projects. Block Island Wind Farm, for instance, produces 30 megawatts of energy each year by five turbines. Ms. Kenney said that the smaller size allows the company to incrementally learn about the industry as it evolves and progresses.
Deepwater Wind began doing environmental impact surveys last year, and plans to submit a project application in 2018. After two years of permit review, Ms. Kenney said the company hopes to begin construction in 2021, and begin commercial operation in 2022.
Bay State Wind
Bay State Wind has a lease on 187,523 acres of federal waters 15 to 25 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.
Bay State Wind is a 50-50 partnership between Eversource Energy and DONG (Danish Oil and Natural Gas) Energy Wind Power US Inc., a global leader in offshore wind energy headquartered in Denmark. The two companies own the lease jointly and plan to develop the site in phases.
DONG Energy has been building offshore wind since 1991, and has projects in Denmark, Germany, Holland and the United Kingdom. It was the first energy company in the world to succeed in installing 1,000 offshore turbines, hitting that mark last fall. Altogether, the projects produce energy for 7.5 million Europeans, DONG Energy environment and consent manager Pernille Hermansen said.
In the last two years, the company has also expanded operations to the United States and Taiwan.
Ms. Hermansen said that the leased development site south of Martha’s Vineyard has a capacity of up to two gigawatts of energy, or 2,000 megawatts of energy—enough to power an estimated one million households.
Bay State Wind is currently in the process of conducting environmental impact studies, including cable reconnaissance and avian and benthic surveys. The partnership company plans to begin producing energy by the early 2020s.
Vineyard Wind, previously known as Offshore MW LLC, holds a lease for 166,886 acres of federal waters, nearly three times the size of Martha’s Vineyard itself. That lease is just southeast of the Bay State Wind lease.
Vineyard Wind is a portfolio company of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, which has played a role in developing some of the largest offshore wind farms in the world. In order to build community support for the project, Vineyard Wind partnered with Vineyard Power, a nonprofit cooperative of over 1,350 Vineyard households and businesses.
In January of 2015, Vineyard Wind executed a community benefit agreement with Vineyard Power, the first federally recognized offshore wind agreement of its kind in the US. The partnership is meant to bring benefits, such as job creation, from the proposed wind farm directly to the island.
Other offshore wind projects by CIP include a 402-megawatt farm off the coast of Germany, a 588-megawatt farm off the coast of the UK and a 180-megawatt project off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Vineyard Power president and CEO Richard Andre said the Massachusetts project could produce between 400 and 800 megawatts of energy each year.
The company plans to focus initial development in the northeast quadrant of the site. That project is currently in the permitting stage, and Vineyard Wind currently has a site assessment plan under review by BOEM.
In addition to the three leased areas, there are also two parcels in federal waters that were not sold in a 2015 lease sale, which measure 248,015 acres and 140,554 acres each.
Two wind energy developers have submitted unsolicited lease requests for the area: Statoil Wind US LLC and PNE Wind USA, Inc. In the coming year, BOEM will initiate a competitive procurement process for those areas.
Following the presentations, William G. Maurer of Falmouth asked whether the energy produced by the developers would be used in Massachusetts.
“After the presentations, I’m thinking that these developers can sign contracts with people other than ISO New England?” he said, referring to the independent not-for-profit foundation authorized by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the regional power system.
Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management Director Bruce Carlisle said that developers can sign a sale contract with any entity, since wind energy is an unregulated market.
However, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the Energy Diversity Act last August, which requires that utility companies procure a total of 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms each year by 2027.
That contribution would make up 11 percent of annual Massachusetts energy production, enough to power about 640,000 homes, equal to almost 25 percent of homes in the state.
However, the power does not necessarily have to come from Massachusetts wind farms. Individual companies must solicit bids for proposals, and those could come from the proposed Massachusetts wind farms.
Coonamessett Farm Foundation administrative assistant Mary C. Newton-Lima asked whether the wind energy developers had conducted benthic surveys in the designated development areas, specifically at the foot of the proposed turbines and along transmission lines.
Mr. Andre said that Vineyard Wind completed a benthic survey of the lease area in the fall, and plans to do a benthic survey on the cable routes in the future. Other developers mentioned completing benthic surveys generally, but did not directly respond to her question.
All results of survey data conducted by the various developers are made available online by BOEM, excepting sensitive information such as wind data and archaeological reports.
Also during the meeting, energy project s pecialist Luke Feinberg of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management noted that a draft supplemental environmental impact statement related to Cape Wind was completed in March.
In 2014, the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed all claims challenging BOEM’s issuance of the Cape Wind lease. However, in 2016, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the statement and required that BOEM supplement the original impact statement with additional data regarding the suitability of the seafloor to support wind turbines.
Despite the additional data, the draft supplemental statement found the impacts to be exactly the same as those determined in the original 2009 environmental impact statement. The document outlines the potential impacts of granting a lease on Horseshoe Shoal or taking no action, but does not endorse either option.
The public comment period on the draft closed Monday, May 15, and a final draft is planned for release this summer.
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