Salem newcomer to offshore wind conversation

Focus is on land adjacent to gas-fired power plant

SALEM IS NOW in the conversation as one of a handful of Massachusetts communities that could be key players as the state vies to become a hub for offshore wind development.

Gov. Charlie Baker gave Salem a big plug earlier this month when his administration pushed lawmakers to approve the use of $100 million in federal aid for offshore wind infrastructure projects in New Bedford, Somerset, Fall River – and Salem. The first three municipalities have all been talked about for years, but Salem, perhaps best known for its Halloween festivities, is a newcomer to the conversation. 

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said the city’s harbor is ideally suited for offshore wind projects because it has a deep-water channel and no bridges, power lines, or breakwaters that could restrict large vessels from coming and going. “It has a natural harbor that could support the industry,” she said. 

A former coal-fired power plant on the waterfront in Salem has been replaced by a much smaller natural-gas fired facility, freeing up an estimated 42 acres of cleared land – 13.7 acres on the north side of the property and 29 acres on the south side.

The waterfront property is owned by the investors behind Footprint Power, the developer of the gas-fired power plant. The investors have floated the idea of repurposing the southern side of the property for mixed-use development, but with the Biden administration aggressively pursuing the development of offshore wind to reach the nation’s climate goals the investors have been encouraged to explore that avenue. They put out a request for expressions of interest and, according to Driscoll, received six to eight submissions related to offshore wind. 

At a Salem Harbor Port Authority meeting late last month, Scott Silverstein, the president and chief operating officer of Footprint Power, said interest in the offshore wind potential of the property has picked up dramatically. 

Salem is still a long way away from jumping into the offshore wind business. Offshore wind leases off the coast of Nantucket are already being developed. Vineyard Wind, the nation’s first industrial-scale offshore wind farm, is now moving ahead with construction and Mayflower Wind has a project going through regulatory review. More procurements are in the works. 

Salem waterfront near the gas-fired power plant.

New Bedford, home to the state-owned marine commerce terminal, will be the staging area for both of the initial projects and the Somerset/Fall River area is likely to grab some of the business from the future procurements. New Bedford is already seeking to expand its waterfront capability to cater to offshore wind. 

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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.

Driscoll said Salem would probably cater to offshore wind development in the Gulf of Maine, where the federal government has yet to auction any offshore wind leases. That means it could be some time before the industry takes hold there. 

Driscoll, however, takes the long view. She sees a synergy between the gas-fired power plant on the Salem waterfront, which has a permit to generate electricity that expires in 2050, and the possible use of the same property to service offshore wind. “This could be the bridge to going more renewable,” she said of the gas-fired power plant.