Offshore wind: Start big or small?

Offshore wind: Start big or small?

Three firms vying for contract offer different approaches

THE THREE COMPANIES VYING to build the first major offshore wind farm in the United States filed their proposals on Wednesday with Massachusetts officials. Each of the firms kept their pricing a secret, so they publicly tried to differentiate their projects based on size, transmission approaches, construction timetables, and partnerships.

Size was the biggest difference. Each of the companies was required to submit a bid for a 400 megawatt project, but they were free to submit additional proposals for less or for more, up to a high of 800 megawatts. The state procurement, which will be spread out over many years, calls for 1,600 megawatts in total.

Bay State Wind, a partnership of Orsted and Eversource, filed an 800 megawatt proposal that company officials said offered the best chance to lower prices and entice European companies to open production facilities in Massachusetts. Thomas Brostrom, president of Orsted North America, said a larger project would also send a signal that Massachusetts is moving quickly to become the epicenter of the industry.

Revolution Wind, a project being developed by Deepwater Wind of Providence, took the opposite approach. It filed a 400 megawatt proposal, a 200 megawatt proposal, and a 256 megawatt proposal. Jeff Grybowski, the Deepwater Wind CEO, said the initial project will by necessity require the importation of a lot of European components and manpower. By starting small, he said, the construction infrastructure in Massachusetts and surrounding states will have time to develop.

Grybowski said the state should be aware of the danger of starting big. “Massachusetts doesn’t need another Cape Wind,” he said.

Erich Stephens, the chief development officer of Vineyard Wind, tried to split the difference between his two competitors. His company filed proposals for 400 and 800 megawatts, but he said 400 megawatts offered the best chance of smooth development. “We think the 400 megawatts is the better choice,” he said.

Here’s how the three companies compare on other aspects of the project, according to press releases issued by the firms and interviews with company officials:

Construction timeline — Vineyard Wind said it would start construction in 2019 and begin generation in 2021.  “This is as fast as you can build an offshore wind project,” said Stephens. Deepwater said it wouldn’t begin commercial operation until 2023. Bay State Wind said it would take several years to obtain its permits and two years to build the wind farm.

Transmission line — The Bay State and Revolution Wind projects would have their transmission lines come ashore in Somerset, where the now-closed Brayton Point, coal-fired power plant is located. Revolution said its transmission line might also come ashore in Davisville, Rhode Island. Vineyard Wind said its transmission line would come ashore in Barnstable at New Hampshire Avenue. Revolution, which is using National Grid to build its transmission line, said it would like to see one, large-scale transmission line built from the Massachusetts coast to the wind farm area to serve all of the projects that will be developed as part of the entire 1,600 megwatt procurement. (The state required all of the bidders to propose single transmission lines to serve their project and expandable lines to serve multiple projects.)

Storage – Revolution and Bay State offered storage options in conjunction with their wind farms. Bay State said it plans to include a 55 megawatt battery storage, while Revolution said it would offer hydroelectric pumped storage in Northfield with FirstLight Power. The hydro storage would use electricity to pump water to a higher-elevation reservoir when power is cheap, and then release the water to run turbines when power is expensive.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Base location — Both Bay State and Revolution would use New Bedford as their staging area and operations and maintenance base. Vineyard Wind said it would use New Bedford for staging and Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard for its operations office.

Partners – Orsted is partnering with Eversource on the Bay State Wind project and Deepwater Wind is working with National Grid on the Revolution Wind project. Different arms of Eversource and National Grid are running the bid process for the procurement under the watchful eye of state regulators and an independent evaluator. Vineyard Wind is a partnership of Avangrid Renewables, one of the nation’s largest wind developers and an affiliate of the Iberdrola Group of Spain, and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.