NEW BEDFORD – Competitors vying to build America’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm put their cards on the table Wednesday, bidding for a Massachusetts contract under the state’s 2016 energy law.
Three distinct pictures emerged of what a commercial wind farm in federal waters off Massachusetts and Rhode Island might look like, but the first project would probably have at least 50 turbines and begin operating in the early 2020s, pending receipt of state and federal permits.
Each of the three developers offered a slightly different timeline and differing plans for energy storage and on-shore facilities.
Bay State Wind and Vineyard Wind each proposed a project of either 400 or 800 megawatts, while Deepwater Wind proposed a project of 200, 256 or 400 megawatts. The proposal for 256 is designed to complement a previous bid that Deepwater submitted in a separate Massachusetts solicitation for green energy projects; if Deepwater wins both the previous bid and the 256, they would total 400 megawatts.
Both of the Deepwater Wind projects are called Revolution Wind.
Two projects – Bay State Wind and Revolution Wind – plan to bring power ashore in Somerset where electricity infrastructure already exists from the closed Brayton Point power plant, which was fired by coal. Revolution Wind would also use a secondary site at Quonset Point in Rhode Island.
Vineyard Wind intends to bring its electricity ashore on Cape Cod, in Yarmouth or Barnstable, and transmit the power via underground cables to an existing substation in Barnstable. The project is co-owned by Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, an international investment company based in Denmark, and the Oregon-based power company Avangrid Renewables. Avangrid, in turn, is owned by Iberdrola of Spain.
Another Danish company, Ørsted, jointly owns Bay State Wind with New England utility company Eversource.
Deepwater Wind is based in Providence and principally owned by the D.E. Shaw Group, an international investment company with headquarters in New York. Deepwater built the Block Island Wind Farm, which has five turbines in Rhode Island state waters and was the first offshore wind farm in the United States.
Erich Stephens, chief development officer at Vineyard Wind, argued that a 400-megawatt project would allow for more competition and a more sustainable industry over the long haul, because one large company would not dominate the field or control the supply chain. An 800-megawatt project would mean giving a single company half of the business expected to occur in Massachusetts by 2027.
The 2016 law creates a state-led procurement process in which electric companies doing business in Massachusetts – Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil – jointly solicit contracts for electricity from offshore wind. Total capacity must reach 1,600 megawatts by the end of June 2027.
Vineyard Wind’s main distinguishing feature, Stephens said, is its timeline. He said Vineyard Wind was the first to file applications for state and federal construction permits. With an accelerated start date of 2019, “we are continuing to pull ahead of our competition,” he said. The project could begin generating electricity in 2021, he said.
Revolution Wind has pegged construction to start in 2022, and operations in 2023.
Ørsted’s president for North America, Thomas Brostrøm, declined to give a firm date for construction of Bay State Wind, saying it’s unclear how long permitting could take for a first-of-its-kind project in federal waters. He said his project is ahead of the competition on permitting, but he did not give specifics. Bay State Wind could begin operations in the early 2020s, he said.
Brostrøm said Ørsted, which owns offshore wind farms in Europe, produced a very competitive bid because of its position in the market.
“We have leveraged our global leadership role in terms of the many suppliers we know from Europe,” he said.
All three developers have signed a letter of intent to use the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal as a staging area for construction, and all three have offices in New Bedford staffed at least part-time.
In the first round of bids, which were due Wednesday, proposals had to include a 400-megawatt wind farm, but they could also offer projects of 200 to 800 megawatts.
To store energy generated at off-peak times, Bay State Wind plans to use a 55-megawatt battery storage system.
Revolution Wind plans to store 250 megawatts of power using FirstLight Power’s hydroelectric system on Northfield Mountain in Northfield, Massachusetts. The system pumps water up the mountain to a reservoir during periods of low demand. When customers need the power, water is released to run downhill through a turbine generator.
Matthew Morrissey, Deepwater Wind’s vice president for Massachusetts, said the system represents the largest-ever pairing of offshore wind with energy storage and offers the electric grid a reliable source of power.
“We are really excited about this new development,” he said. “The promise of renewable energy will change when battery storage – any kind of storage – becomes available at scale.”
Vineyard Wind has not proposed a storage system; rather, it will donate $1 million annually toward something Stephens said Cape and Islands residents have been more concerned about: battery backup systems to alleviate power outages at critical sites, such as schools used as hurricane shelters. Communities will have a say in where the systems go, he said.
None of the companies publicly revealed what ratepayers would pay for their electricity, although that information was in their bid documents. Stephens said the prices they have quoted could be negotiated, and are therefore still a point of competition.
Each company offered a package of financial support for energy-related causes, including:
Bay State Wind
$1 million for wind training at Bristol Community College
$17.5 million for energy assistance and weatherization for low-income families
$1 million for wind research at the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology
$500,000 annually during construction to the New Bedford Harbor Development Commission
$1 million annually for battery backup systems
$2 million for unspecified community colleges and vocational schools
$10 million to help businesses get into the industry
$3 million to develop or commercialize sound-reduction technology to protect marine mammals from construction noise
Amber Hewett, regional campaign coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said her organization is eager to work with the bidders to ensure that wildlife are protected during every stage of the development. Offshore wind will help America rise to the challenge of climate change “as 2017 goes into the record books as a year of unprecedented hurricanes, record wildfires, and blazing heat,” she said in an email.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the city has had “productive discussions” with the developers about their potential commitments to New Bedford and will review the bids with an eye toward making the city the East Coast hub of wind energy.
The bids will be evaluated by representatives of the electricity distribution companies and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, overseen by an independent evaluator. The deadline for selection of one or more projects is April 23.