The Baker administration and the state’s utilities appear ready to put another offshore wind contract out to bid, and this time the plan is to seek as much power as they did in the two previous procurements combined.
The officials from the Department of Energy Resources, attorney general’s office and the electric distribution companies – Unitil, National Grid and Eversource – working to write the state’s next offshore wind request for proposals this week published a draft RFP and asked for industry and public input as they prepare to contract for more clean offshore wind power generation.
The draft is the first step towards a procurement of up to 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power with the goal of executing a final contract by the spring of 2022. Since a 2016 clean energy law kicked off the state’s foray into the offshore wind world, Massachusetts utilities have contracted for a total of about 1,600 MW between two projects, Vineyard Wind and Mayflower Wind.
The draft RFP says the evaluation team is looking for “at least 400 MW and up to 1600 MW of offshore wind energy generation” but will consider bids that propose as little as 200 MW of generation.
The state’s expanding appetite for offshore wind likely means more turbines buried in the seafloor in the deep waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket where 62 turbines are envisioned for the Vineyard Wind project and where an undisclosed number of turbines will power the Mayflower Wind development. Pending permitting approvals, the industry plans to eventually line up wind farms in a series of federal lease areas there.
Last year, DOER told key lawmakers that it thinks the best way for Massachusetts to move forward with the procurement of 1,600 MW of offshore wind power – authorized, but not mandated, by a 2018 energy law – is to procure the 1,600 MW at once rather than conducting two procurement rounds of 800 MW each, which had been the initial plan. The shift also means the state could secure a combined 3,200 MW of offshore wind power two years sooner than previously envisioned.
“Based on stakeholder feedback and discussion during DOER’s transmission investigation, DOER believes that potential benefits of 1,600 MW of independent transmission, including reducing cabling and using onshore interconnection points efficiently, can be captured by soliciting for a similar capacity of bundled generation and transmission,” DOER Commissioner Patrick Woodcock wrote in July.
The timeframe for the next procurement, which is subject to Department of Public Utilities approval, calls for bids to be submitted in September, project selection in December and execution of a long-term contract by the end of March 2022. The contracts with the utility companies would be submitted to DPU for approval by April 27, 2022.
So far, Massachusetts lawmakers have authorized the procurement of a total of 3,200 MW of offshore wind power and a forthcoming procurement of 1,600 MW would fulfill those orders. The climate policy bill that Gov. Charlie Baker returned to the Legislature with amendments Sunday would require that the executive branch direct Massachusetts utilities to buy an additional 2,400 MW of offshore wind power once the initial 3,200 MW have been secured.
The two existing projects, which remain years away, must be generating electricity for Massachusetts to meet its 2030 emissions reduction target, but Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides has said that the state’s 2050 goal of net-zero emissions will require a lot more wind energy.
“Offshore wind is an absolutely critical part of a low-cost strategy to achieve net-zero emissions. By 2050, we’re looking at something on the order of 25 [gigawatts] of offshore permitted and operating off of our coasts,” she said.
To get to that point though, the secretary said, Massachusetts will need to hit a pace in the 2030s where it has about 1 GW of new offshore wind power coming online each year. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts.
“So the permitting environment matters a lot,” she said last week after the Biden administration put the Vineyard Wind 1 project back at the front of the line for federal approval.
The Baker administration has been vocal about its desire to have the flexibility to contract for clean energy from various sources through a multi-state effort that’s still in the early stages of development, and the draft RFP released this week appears to leave open that possibility.
“The Commonwealth of Massachusetts in consultation with the Distribution Companies will consider the participation of other states as a means to achieve the Commonwealth’s Offshore Wind Energy Generation goals if such participation has positive or neutral impact on Massachusetts ratepayers,” DOER, the AG’s office and utilities wrote in a footnote to the draft RFP. The same language was included in the state’s last offshore wind RFP in 2019.
“We absolutely need additional authorization to procure clean power regionally and that will be a focus for us this session,” Theohardies told the News Service on Sunday when Baker returned the climate bill with amendments.
The state and utility officials working to write the next RFP will accept public comments on their draft until 5 p.m. on Feb. 23. Written comments should be sent via email to MARFP83C@gmail.com and commenters are welcome to weigh in on any aspect of the RFP, regardless of whether it had been changed since the last procurement round in 2019. The entirety of the RFP is subject to change, the officials said.
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