Energy Provider And Offshore Wind Producer Team Up To Build Wind Farm Off Martha's Vineyard

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The nation's first offshore wind farm began spinning earlier this month off the coast of Rhode Island. (Courtesy Ryan Caron King/New England News Collaborative)
The nation's first offshore wind farm began spinning earlier this month off the coast of Rhode Island. (Courtesy Ryan Caron King/New England News Collaborative)

New England's largest energy provider and the world's largest producer of offshore wind have teamed up to build a wind farm off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.

One is on land — that's Eversource. The company transmits and delivers electricity and natural gas to more than 3.5 million customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Two is by sea — DONG Energy, which built the world's first offshore wind farm 25 years ago and is the global leader generating electricity in the ocean.

Thomas Brostrøm, general manager of DONG Energy for North America, says together the companies are partnering to leverage what they do best.

"Clearly, DONG Energy, having built 19 projects to date, is very strong in the offshore part of developing and constructing wind farms and Eversource, with the local market knowledge and very strong transmission lines, we feel it's a great fit," Brostrøm said.

The partnership has lot of area to fill: 186,000 acres of ocean leased to DONG by the federal government. The joint project, dubbed Bay State Wind, would be sited 15 to 25 miles off the southern coast of Martha's Vineyard, with scores of giant wind turbines potentially generating enough energy to power a million homes.

Eversource Executive Vice President Lee Olivier wouldn't put a price tag on the project. He says company stockholders, not ratepayers, will pay for it, and that proximity to transmission lines on the mainland will make the price of the offshore wind cost competitive with fossil fuels.

"You're going to have the energy near Boston, near Providence, so the cost of interconnection there will be very low," Olivier said. "So we think that's a great deal for customers. Our goal is to keep energy costs to customers as low as possible."

Those costs and the overall fate of Bay State Wind will be determined next summer. That's when Massachusetts begins accepting competitive bids for the first slice of 1,600 megawatts of offshore energy. Massachusetts is the first state to mandate utilities procure offshore wind — it was a landmark decision designed to jump-start the clean energy offshore industry.

"I think this is very exciting," said professor Erin Baker, director of the Wind Energy Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "I think it's something that makes a lot of sense, certainly in the Northeast. We have great wind resources, we have shallow waters and we just should be taking advantage of this resource there."

The ocean at the proposed site is 120 to 150 feet deep, and the wind is strong and steady, but while you don't have to be a weatherman to know that, forecasting the political winds of change can be more difficult.

Eversource's Olivier hazards an optimistic prediction.

"Renewable energy jobs in America make up almost a million jobs and growing so I don't think the new administration will do anything that will hurt those jobs because they're all about job creation," he said.


DONG Energy's Brostrøm estimates Bay State Wind could generate a thousand construction jobs here, but the first turbines and generators would be built in Europe. Brostrøm says that could change as the industry gears up to harvest New England's bountiful offshore winds.

"Certainly with time, I think you'll see local manufacturing possibly along the East Coast," he said.

Bay State Wind could be up and running by the mid-2020s.

This segment aired on December 14, 2016.


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Bruce Gellerman Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman was a journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.



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