Massachusetts is gearing up for the creation of the state's first offshore wind farm. On Wednesday, the state selected the New Bedford-based firm Vineyard Wind to build what could be the largest offshore wind farm in the country.
The coast of Massachusetts is an ideal location to harness the power of wind and now, Vineyard Wind will have the opportunity to build a turbine farm about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard. But what exactly will all of this look like? To get a better sense of what’s to come, you need to visit the nation’s first offshore wind farm, five turbines that stand just off the coast of Rhode Island.
It’s a windy and bumpy boat ride out to the wind farm, and leading the way is Bryan Wilson, manager of the Block Island Wind Farm run by Deepwater Wind.
"The wind farm is located three miles off the shores of Block Island in state waters," Wilson said. "The turbines are quite a sight to see, everyone who arrives for the first time is pretty much awestruck, quite honestly I go out there all the time and I’m still awestruck, it’s quite a sight to behold."
The five turbines stand about 600 feet tall from bottom to blade, which is about the height of a 60-story building. Its three blades are each about 200 feet long, and they spin slowly, with an almost imperceptible sound. While they look serene out on the water, the farm came online at the end of 2016 after a controversial, seven-year permitting process through Rhode Island. Its five turbines generate enough energy to power all of Block Island, a total of about 17,000 homes.
"A five turbine project is fine for a demonstration, but as an economic engine it’s not huge," Wilson said.
But the time for demonstrations is over. Vineyard Wind will have the first shot at installing turbines in 300 square miles of federally-owned ocean south of Martha’s Vineyard. Ultimately, up to 800 megawatts of offshore wind energy could come to Massachusetts consumers from that area – enough to power about 400,000 homes. If successful, the project may look like the Block Island farm, times 10. Bill White of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center says he sees the state as a strong supporter of offshore wind.
"The legislature spoke, and they said yeah, we need offshore wind in Massachusetts," White said. "There’s a need for new generation to power our economy and homes. This will also have tremendous economic and job prospects."
Last year, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration made a commitment to have the state producing 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035. White added that finding new sources for renewable energy is particularly important as Massachusetts has closed its only coal power plant, and is looking to decommission its only nuclear power plant in the next year.
This isn’t the first time Massachusetts has seen proposals for offshore wind. Last year, the offshore wind proposal called Cape Wind was shot down after more than 10 years of clashes with the public and local fishermen. But Vineyard Wind hopes that this time, things will be different. Erich Stephens, Chief Development Officer of Vineyard Wind explained.
"I saw how things were playing out with Cape Wind and I wanted to do it differently," Stephens said. "Really it was about the community selecting the area and fishermen selecting the area and not us as a private project developer."
At a packed Vineyard Wind public meeting last month in Hyannis, while many residents were supportive of the offshore wind proposal, Vineyard Wind’s fisheries representative Jim Kendall said fishermen are worried about navigating these areas.
"There’s a lot of concerns, mostly it’s the unknowns," Kendall said. "It’ll be much more difficult no doubt and their practices will probably have to change to some degree or a big degree."
He says that at this point though, many are resigned to offshore wind happening, and few were at the public meeting to speak out. But the state is moving ahead. And now with the backing of the Baker administration, Vineyard Wind plans to begin construction in 2019, with turbines potentially spinning by 2021.