Offshore wind, but not Cape Wind

Omnibus energy bill should include ocean-based wind

Two recent news headlines should be central to the important debate over legislation that will determine whether or not Massachusetts has access to clean, reliable, and affordable sources of energy to power our homes, schools, and workplaces.

First, Energy Corp. announced in October that it would close the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth by 2019, shortly after Dominion Energy announced next year’s shutdown of the Brayton Point Power Plant in Somerset. The closure of these and other obsolete coal and oil-powered power plants around the region will cost Massachusetts more than 10 percent of its power production. New England will lose 25 percent of its production within the next decade, according to ISO-New England, which manages the region’s power supply.

How we replace those power generators will affect how much we pay for electricity to heat and cool our homes and whether or not Massachusetts will continue to be an affordable place to do business.

Second, a study last month by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Buzzards Bay Coalition found that water temperatures in Buzzards Bay have increased by 4 degrees over the past two decades as a result of climate change fueled by rising levels of greenhouse gases linked to the burning of fossil fuels, all but eliminating the bay’s lobster fishery and harming water quality.

Those are two of the big reasons why the current debate in the state Legislature over a bill that will decide energy policy for a decade or more is so important. It will determine whether we are able to wean ourselves from an over-reliance on natural gas, which provides an unhealthy 64 percent of the state’s electrical power production, and to address the serious environmental changes that are the result of climate change.

The energy bill before the Legislature will also determine whether or not Massachusetts is able to procure adequate supplies of power, thereby eliminating the volatility in electric rates to which we all have become accustomed.

Even before the announced Pilgrim shutdown, New England’s electric bill was going to be at least $2 billion higher in 2017, because ISO New England was forced to cover the expected energy shortfall with power purchased on the energy futures market. State legislators are considering legislation that is likely to include a mix of energy sources, including natural gas, hydroelectricity, and wind.

One key provision being considered would require that public utilities buy 2,000 megawatts of power from offshore wind farms.

Those wind farms are in no way related to the moribund Cape Wind project, and none will be built in Nantucket Sound. Instead, the offshore wind industry in Massachusetts will be built in tracts of ocean 15 to 25 miles southwest of Martha’s Vineyard in waters leased by the Bureau of Ocean Management to three of the world’s largest and most experienced offshore wind developers: Deepwater Wind, which is building a demonstration wind farm off Block Island; DONG Energy, the world’s largest developer of offshore wind farms; and Offshore MW, which is owned by one of the world’s largest venture capital firms.

Those waters produce among the strongest and most reliable winds in the world, and they are located sufficiently far offshore that they will provide little disturbance to marine species or to views from shore.

Each year, offshore wind could eliminate more than 3 million tons of carbon dioxide, 3,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 1,100 tons of nitrous oxide from spewing into the atmosphere from fossil fuel-fired power plants, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

In addition, a new offshore wind industry would create thousands of jobs for Massachusetts. The US Department of Energy forecasts the industry will employ 43,000 people along the East Coast by 2030. Most of those employees would be located in New England. Port cities like New Bedford, Fall River, and Quincy stand to gain jobs servicing that emerging industry.

The price of the power produced by offshore wind farms in Europe — which has developed more than 10,000 megawatts of wind power — is already competitive with other energy generators, and the price is falling as technology improves and the industry matures and benefits from the economy of scale.

In Massachusetts, the three developers looking to build the first industrial-scale wind farm in the United States would be required to bid against one another to offer the lowest price. Further, offshore wind should help keep overall energy prices down because wind farms produce the most power during periods of peak demand: during summer heat waves and frigid winters.

Finally, as South Coast residents understand as well as anyone, Massachusetts must act decisively against climate change if we are to preserve our way of life and our coastal communities, which are so closely linked to the health of our oceans.

Meet the Author

Paul Vigeant

Managing director, New Bedford Wind Energy Center
For all those reasons, offshore wind should be part of a comprehensive state energy plan.

Paul Vigeant is the Director of the New Bedford Wind Energy Center