Offshore wind gets a green light

State, nation embark on new energy future

AFTER YEARS of federal delays, Vineyard Wind on Tuesday gained approval from the Biden administration to construct the nation’s first industrial-scale wind farm 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard.

The long-awaited regulatory decision sets the state and the nation on course for a very different energy future, one that relies on offshore wind to help power homes, businesses, and vehicles as they transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Vineyard Wind is the first of what is hoped will be many wind farms up and down the East Coast. Massachusetts wants three big wind farms up and running by 2030 generating as much as 3,200 megawatts of power. By 2050, the state is counting on 15,000 megawatts as it attempts to reach net-zero carbon emissions. The Biden administration is counting on 30,000 megawatts in total by 2030.

“It is a really historic day for offshore wind, not just in Massachusetts but across the United States,” said Kathleen Theoharides, the Baker administration’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, speaking at a press conference in the state’s cavernous wind turbine testing center in Charlestown. “This is the kind of stuff that dreams are made of.”

Lars Pedersen, the CEO of Vineyard Wind, a joint venture of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners and Avangrid Renewables, also tried to capture the potential of what lies ahead.

“This is not about a single project,” he said. “This is about an industry that is going to revitalize waterfronts up and down the eastern seaboard, create well-paying jobs, and bring clean, affordable energy to households while the states are transitioning from fossil and nuclear power plants to a green future.”

Nearly all of the equipment needed to build the Vineyard Wind wind farm will come from overseas, using the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal as a staging area. General Electric is supplying up to 62 of its giant Halides X turbines from a manufacturing facility in France. The blades on the Halides are 351 feet long (the equivalent of 1 ½ football fields) and capable of generating with one turn enough electricity to power a home for a day. The ships used to install the turbines will come from overseas, as will most of the platforms and other gear.

“Most of that equipment you can’t buy here,” said Pedersen. “There is no supply chain.”

Pedersen said Vineyard Wind will create 3,600 jobs over the life of the project, most of them in construction. Once Vineyard Wind receives a few final permits over the next two weeks, he said, the company will secure its financing and begin construction. Work is expected to finish inn 2023.

Vineyard Wind

The Baker administration, in the procurement process for the state’s first two wind farms, has focused primarily on paying a low price for the power. Other states have placed a greater emphasis on onshore investments by the wind farm developers that may lead to permanent jobs and a new industry.

The long-term expectation is that as the industry grows and matures it will become economical to manufacture more and more of the wind farm components here in the United States, near where they will be used. States are trying to position themselves to grab large chunks of that emerging industry.

After all the delays and study by the Trump administration, the final environmental analysis of the project did not differ greatly from what was submitted originally. The biggest difference is the number of turbines. By going with much larger turbines that were originally planned, Vineyard Wind was able to reduce its footprint from more than 100 turbines to 62.

The turbines will be oriented on an East-West orientation with one mile separating each turbine.

Fishing interests had pushed for a travel navigation lane through the middle of the wind farm, but the Biden administration rejected that approach because it would require more research and end up delaying the project. The regulatory decision said the delays were inconsistent with the Biden administration’s 2030 offshore wind goals as laid out in an executive order on climate change.

The Responsible Development Offshore Alliance, a broad coalition of fishing industry associations and companies, accused the Biden administration of running roughshod over the industry’s concerns.  The alliance accused the Biden administration of engaging in a “scattershot, partisan, and opaque approach that undermines every lesson we’ve learned throughout environmental history.”

Anne Hawkins, executive director of the alliance, said fishermen have repeatedly been met with silence as they have raised concerns during the environmental review process. “From this silence now emerges unilateral action and a clear indication that those in authority care more about multinational businesses and energy politics than our environment, domestic food sources, or US citizens,” she said.