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A former coal-fired power plant on the waterfront in Salem has been replaced by a much smaller natural-gas fired facility, freeing up an estimated 42 acres of cleared land – 13.7 acres on the north side of the property and 29 acres on the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