The Seacoast region is in the early stages of evaluating the challenges and opportunities of offshore wind renewable energy generation with wind turbines off the local coastline.
Because the more than 800-foot-tall wind turbines would be anywhere from 10 to 20 miles away from the shore, experts said, they should not be very visible from the shore and they will be out far enough to avoid interfering with commercial fishing operations.
But building a multi-billion-dollar offshore wind project like this requires a lot of upfront work to build the labor workforce and industry infrastructure for the project and to maintain it for the long term, experts say. The planning is still in its infancy, so construction of an undertaking like this is still at least five to seven years out.
The Seacoast Chamber Alliance, state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, and New Hampshire Offshore Wind Industry Development Director Michael Behrmann led a conversation over Zoom video conference Tuesday on how neighboring New England states can benefit from a cooperative approach to wind power.
Where is the New England wind turbine project is now?
Discussion Tuesday centered around how New England can build out the infrastructure for this industry to have a wide-ranging economic impact.
This topic of discussion dates back to 2019, when Gov. Chris Sununu called for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to establish a tri-state federal task force to plan Gulf of Maine lease areas. It involves New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts working together to develop offshore wind as a reliable renewable energy source. This led New Hampshire to create the Offshore Wind Commission, which is led by Watters serving as chair. Its goal is to evaluate and push legislation to help spur the development of the offshore wind industry.
“I saw this as an extraordinary opportunity for economic development and job creation for New Hampshire,” Watters said, noting the state’s Seacoast region is in what he calls “a sweet spot” because its existing harbor facilities in Portsmouth and other locations help position the area to be an integral part of the up-and-coming industry in Northern New England.
This month, Watters introduced Senate Bill 151, which will be heard by the Legislature in the coming weeks. It would establish a framework for the future procurement of upward of 800 megawatts of renewable energy and the financing of offshore wind energy generation resources in New Hampshire through the solicitation and development of long-term contracts with distribution companies by the Public Utilities Commission.
The Seabrook nuclear plant produces 1.2 GW, so it would take 120 10MW wind turbines to equal the capacity of Seabrook.
“That [bill] will potentially lock in very, very competitive prices for New Hampshire consumers from offshore wind both existing [in southern New England] and what’s going to be built,” Watters said.
This is just the start of a lengthy process to bring projects like this to the Seacoast, leaders said.
Looking at the regional potential
A project like this has many moving parts throughout the planning, construction and continued upkeep phases.
While the economic benefit of an offshore wind project is hard to precisely calculate this early on, panelists said Tuesday, it could bring billions of dollars in investments and economic impact, causing a “ripple effect” in economic development. Watters said while it is still early in the process for exact numbers, the potential across the region to produce several gigawatts of power could create about 20,000 jobs regionally.
One of the biggest challenges is the industry infrastructure has yet to be built out. Behrmann said there are many areas within New Hampshire’s existing supply chain and the expertise of local businesses that can be tapped into, on top of figuring out how to best utilize the expertise of the infrastructure in neighboring states.
“I see [offshore wind] technology being one of the cornerstones that we can build upon for our renewable component moving forward over the next several decades,” Behrmann said.
Elizabeth Donohue, a representative from Eversource on the panel, said while developing the industry takes a lot of time and money, it gives back in terms of economic benefits. It will take regional partnerships to make it work, she said.
“There’s a huge opportunity here with a lot of benefits, particularly around job training for infrastructure and local partnerships,” Donohue said, noting it will provide direct and indirect jobs. “Building an industry also requires developing things like the vessels for construction. There is the pre-assembly, which will happen offshore in different ports. And then there’s the deployment of that, which is both the construction or the assembly out at sea followed by the operations and maintenance that will occur over the next 25 to 30 years.”
Donohue calls it not the only but “the biggest piece of the renewable energy puzzle” to both reduce carbon emissions and stimulate the local economy with this new industry.
“The wind off our coast … it is strongest and most consistent in winter, when we will most need energy for heating,” Donohue said. “And the shallow water on our continental shelf is ideal for building turbines in the Gulf of Maine, where the waters are deep enough to require floating turbines, but shallower than that off the West Coast.”
New England states were some of the first to set targets for offshore wind. New York and New Jersey set the strongest offshore wind targets in the area. Tuesday’s panelists said there is a competitive advantage for regional collaboration.
Any future offshore wind project would be tethered to the sea floor at least 10 miles offshore, but the sea level would dictate if they are on floating structures, or built into the sea floor, the panelists said. Transmission lines will run to an offshore substation, which will then run to an onshore substation to distribute to the grid.
While finalization of any plans are in the future, in the meantime Behrmann is working to create a directory for businesses that want to be involved in the industry. Watters said by fall this year, he hopes a task force meeting will give a clearer picture of when, logistically, an offshore wind project will be possible in the Gulf of Maine.
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