Offshore wind takes a new course for Massachusetts

By Erich Stephens, CAPE COD TIMES

The Cape Wind project was first proposed in 2001, six years before the first iPhone. A lot has changed for the better since 2001, and not just with cell phones. Today’s offshore wind turbines are now vastly more efficient than those proposed by Cape Wind, and can be installed in much deeper water, far from any shore.

Unfortunately, some things have not changed much since 2001, including the threat of global warming, particularly to coastal communities like ours. And Massachusetts is still at the end of the energy pipeline, putting us at risk with sometimes unreliable supply and resulting price spikes.

Massachusetts has now set a new course to realize the benefits and opportunities of modern offshore wind technology. In 2016, legislators from the South Coast, the Cape and Islands led the way in enacting a law requiring the state’s utilities to procure a total of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy. Gov. Charlie Baker quickly signed the legislation, and his administration has since been working actively and thoughtfully towards its implementation.

This new policy gives Massachusetts an opportunity to be at the center of a new industry, putting many hundreds to work in the region harnessing the affordable, local, clean energy blowing far offshore, and doing so with minimal impacts to the coastal views we all hold important.

In December, Vineyard Wind and two other companies will submit bids to build projects using state-of-the-art offshore wind technology. Each project proposed must be over 13 miles from the nearest shore, and use a location selected in a multi-year, public process. Scientific studies of the nearby ocean and seafloor were conducted over several years, ensuring that the best information was used in making project siting decisions. The fishing industry, birds, marine mammals, the tourism industry, the region’s history and natural viewsheds were all carefully considered by a panel of tribal, local, state, and federal officials in selecting appropriate areas for offshore wind.

The Vineyard Wind project will be the closest project to the Cape, although more than 30 miles away. At this distance the turbines will usually be invisible, and barely visible if at all.

The Cape stands to directly benefit from the Vineyard Wind project. Vineyard Wind is exploring connecting cables from the project to already-existing electrical substations by placing the cables underneath roads, alongside existing buried utility and sewer lines. Modern technology allows us to install these cables deep underneath beaches with little or no disturbance, using access points placed in existing roads and set back from dunes and other sensitive habitats. Vineyard Wind is seeking to enter into host community agreements with the towns where the cables would be located, including Yarmouth and Barnstable, providing significant, fixed revenue streams to those communities over the 30-year life of the project, helping to pay for schools, public safety, and road maintenance − while causing no additional town expenditures.

Vineyard Wind has and will continue to seek public participation early in our project planning process, when concerns for communities and the environment can be more easily addressed, and local benefits identified. We engaged a fisheries’ representative to help us better understand concerns of area fishermen. We entered into a community benefits agreement with Vineyard Power, a nonprofit co-operative with over 10 percent of the Martha’s Vineyard’s electricity customers as members.

Once completed, the 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind will generate enough clean energy to supply more than 750,000 homes, making an enormous contribution to reducing global warming pollutants while enhancing our energy security and stabilizing prices. Offshore wind will also bring billions of dollars of private investment into the region, diversifying and growing the region’s economy. There will be investment in local ports, new services such as transport vessels, ongoing research offshore, and training the skilled workforce needed to build and operate the projects.

Vineyard Wind hopes to work with the communities of Cape Cod and the Islands in realizing together the many benefits of offshore wind.

— Erich Stephens is the CEO of New Bedford-based Vineyard Wind, one of three companies competing to build the first offshore wind project off the coast of Massachusetts.