From a variety of perspectives, offshore wind development in Massachusetts has been an excruciatingly slow and risk-laden process. Achievements along the way have come years apart and only after extensive research, countless negotiations, and unwavering commitment from individuals and groups who early on recognized the energy potential in the state’s offshore wind.
So pressure is high as Massachusetts approaches its next milestone — an expected May 23 selection of a developer or developers to enter into contract negotiations for energy procurement.
The state will choose from a group of three developers — Bay State Wind, Deepwater Wind, and Vineyard Wind — each of whom hold leases in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and each of whom submitted proposals for consideration.
The success of any of these developments would represent the birth of an industry with the staggering potential to meet more than eight times the demand for power in Massachusetts — an amount that could catapult the state toward its clean energy goals and fill the gaps caused by closing area power plants (Brayton Point Power Plant last year and Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in 2019).
Bid selection processes always determine winners and losers but this one goes beyond developer ramifications to affect all energy users and ratepayers in the state. The selection committee, therefore, should exercise its power to award the full 800MW to best support industry development here in Massachusetts.
The award can be made as a single 800MW project, as Bay State Wind is advocating for, or as two 400MW developments.
There are several pros and cons to each.
An 800MW project supports lower costs through economies of scale while two 400MW projects allow for more competition and less chance that any one developer will gain a monopoly in the fledgling industry.
Both, however, send a message to future supply chain partners that the state is ambitious in its goals and fully committed to building an industry.
Beyond that, the selection committee must carefully select from proposals that address a range of conditions that will have local impact. Job creation, workforce training, financing, supply chain development, and responsiveness to other marine interests are all on that list.
The commitment of developers to source materials from U.S. manufacturers is reassuring but difficult to ensure, especially since most turbine parts are not yet made in the U.S. These initial projects will consequently source many of their parts from European businesses who will likely set up or strengthen U.S.-based operations.
Bay State Wind and Vineyard Wind both bring significant industry experience to their proposals while Deepwater Wind has the local representation that understands New Bedford and would work carefully to protect the city’s interest.
The commitment by all three developers to stage and deploy their turbine construction from New Bedford’s Marine Commerce Terminal is good news for the city and state after its $113 million investment in the terminal. Deepwater Wind and Bay State Wind have taken that local commitment a step further, saying they will conduct their ongoing operations and maintenance work from New Bedford as well.
A key consideration for reviewers will be the potential ramifications of building 50 to 100 turbines in local waters. There can be no real gain if a new industry harms another. The selection committee should carefully consider the needs of commercial fishermen, and the value of the $300 million scallop industry to Massachusetts’ economy.
Any subsequent environmental review process should also carefully weigh commercial fishing needs.
Vineyard Wind’s environmental filing may have been premature in that it leaves unanswered questions about turbine impact on fish species. But it successfully started a conversation that fishing agencies and associations are using to make their concerns known and will hopefully lead to increased collaboration between fishing interests and their wind counterparts.
Massachusetts pays the highest electricity rates in the continental U.S. The state owes it to all of us to give offshore wind the best shot it can at successful development.