Officials in Massachusetts and Rhode Island announced contracts Wednesday for two massive offshore wind farms off Martha’s Vineyard, a move that could usher in a significant expansion of the industry in the region.
The Baker administration said Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Connecticut-based utility Avangrid and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, was selected to build a wind farm with as many as 100 turbines about 15 miles south of the Vineyard.
And Rhode Island officials said they selected Providence-based Deepwater Wind to build a 400-megawatt wind farm northwest of the Vineyard Wind project.
“This is a spectacular day,” Deepwater Wind chief executive Jeffrey Grybowski said. “To be honest with you, I’m still taking it all in.”
The decisions mark an abrupt turn in fortunes for the wind power industry, which has struggled to build any offshore project of size in the United States. The Cape Wind project in Massachusetts endured more than a decade of opposition before surrendering in late 2017; the first to come online in New England was the modest five-turbine wind farm project that Deepwater built near Block Island in 2016.
But now there is something of an arms race among states, as the federal government pushes to lease more of the ocean for power generation. New York officials, for example, have stated they want companies to build as much as 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Officials in New Jersey, meanwhile, want to top that with 3,500 megawatts by that same date.
In Massachusetts, Baker administration officials said the 800-megawatt Vineyard Wind project is the largest single procurement of offshore wind power of any state. Vineyard Wind has applied for state and federal permits, and expects to start construction next year, with the first turbines connecting to the grid as soon as 2021. Officials said it was too early to disclose its cost.
The Deepwater project also needs to get approval from the federal government to proceed.
The Cape Wind project was tied up for years in the permitting process and lawsuits, as Cape Cod residents objected to the sight of dozens of turbines several miles offshore. While the two new projects may be visible on the horizon from the Vineyard, both are so much farther offshore that they are unlikely to generate the kind of controversy that doomed Cape Wind.
“We are really looking forward to being able to build the first large-scale offshore wind farm in the US,” said Lars Pedersen, Vineyard Wind chief executive. “We hope there will be more projects to come.”
Meanwhile, Deepwater’s Revolution Wind project would be a few miles closer to shore – about 12 miles southwest of the Vineyard. It would be at least 10 times the size of the company’s Block Island wind farm. Deepwater, backed by giant investment firm D.E. Shaw & Co., still needs to negotiate a contract with National Grid’s Rhode Island affiliate.
The Vineyard Wind bid was awarded under a Massachusetts law that encourages utilities to get more of their power from clean energy sources. The Baker administration is overseeing a similar effort to increase hydroelectric power for Massachusetts and is working on a different plan by Avangrid to build a power line through Maine to import electricity from Canada.
The evaluation team for the wind power contracts consisted of representatives from the state Department of Energy Resources, Eversource, National Grid, and Unitil. State officials said the choice by the utility representatives was unanimous.
“For us to be on the doorstep of the largest development of offshore wind in the nation’s history, it’s pretty cool,” said Matthew Beaton, Massachusetts’ secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
The developers are racing to benefit from a federal tax credit for offshore wind projects before it shrinks next year and expires altogether in 2020.
Deepwater had submitted a separate bid for the Massachusetts process, as did a third bidder – a joint venture known as Bay State Wind, owned by Danish energy giant Orsted and Eversource Energy. The state energy law enables contracts for up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind, and Massachusetts officials expect to launch a second round of bidding next year.
After watching the promise of Cape Wind fade over the years, wind-power proponents were ebullient over the two big awards Wednesday.
“It’s really exciting, particularly for those who lived through the Cape Wind debacle,” said Emily Norton, the Sierra Club’s Massachusetts director. “Plenty of people thought, ‘Are we ever going to see offshore wind in Massachusetts?’ ”
Ken Kimmell, president of the Cambridge-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said the wind power from Vineyard Wind will help Massachusetts replace aging power plants that have either recently closed or are about to retire, such as the Pilgrim nuclear reactor in Plymouth.
Vineyard Wind plans to run its underwater transmission line along the channel between the Vineyard and Nantucket, and across the sound where Cape Wind had been proposed, before connecting to the mainland on Cape Cod. Audra Parker, head of Cape Wind opponent the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, worries that the transmission line would make it easier for a future wind farm or another energy project to be built in Nantucket Sound. She said her group will seek a legal designation or federal legislation to prevent that from happening.
“We need to take that final step to truly leave a lasting legacy,” Parker said.
Still, a number of fishermen are casting a wary eye at this emerging industry.
“We can only hope that the cumulative impacts of hundreds of wind turbines and associated subsurface cables and subsequent noise will not have a detrimental impact on our resource as well as access to the fishery,” said Michael Pierdinock, Massachusetts chairman of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and a charter boat captain based in New Bedford. “I am counting on the fact that appropriate scientific studies will be conducted accordingly prior to siting to make sure we protect our resource.”
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