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Mass. To Pick Developer Of Nation's 1st Industrial-Sized Offshore Wind Farm

The Block Island wind farm has been up and running since late 2016. (Ryan Caron King/New England News Collaborative)
The Block Island wind farm has been up and running since late 2016. (Ryan Caron King/New England News Collaborative)
This article is more than 5 years old.

Update: The state selected Vineyard Wind for an 800-megawatt wind farm.

On Wednesday, Massachusetts officials will announce the long-anticipated winner of the nation's first industrial-sized offshore wind project.

Here's a Q&A on the selection:

Wasn't the Block Island wind farm the nation's first offshore wind project?

Block Island, which has been up and running in Rhode Island waters since late 2016, was the first offshore wind farm, but it's small: just five turbines producing 30 megawatts.

The Massachusetts plan is to develop 1,600 megawatts over the next decade. The sites are hundreds of square miles, just south of Martha's Vineyard.

How much power would get generated?

The 1,600 megawatts is about two and a half times the output of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, and when it's totally built out that will meet the electric needs of more than 1.5 million homes.

So there are three proposals before the state selection committee?

Yes, and each bidder had to commit to building at least 400 megawatts in this round. They could decide to construct more.

The three projects are:

  1. Deepwater Wind, which built the Block Island project, teamed up with National Grid;
  2. Bay State Wind, a joint effort by Eversource and the Danish firm Ørsted, the world's largest offshore wind company;
  3. Vineyard Wind, another joint project, this one with a Spanish utility and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners.

Could there be multiple winners?

Yes, there could be several companies selected for this tranche.

But besides generating a lot of electricity, a major goal of state lawmakers who mandated that utilities procure clean energy from offshore wind is that it generate jobs and jump-start a new industry.

So, what kind of jobs, and how much money are we talking about?

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has estimated that the emerging offshore wind industry could inject up to $800 million directly into the state's economy over the next decade.

And construction could employ about 2,000 people. Wind turbine technicians are in very high demand.

But the real employment is in operating and maintaining the hundreds of turbines at sea, and developing an infrastructure for a large industry on land. All the projects promise to use the state's new port staging area in New Bedford.

The energy is supposed to help wean the state away from fossil fuels. But what about sea life and birds?

Offshore wind farms can kill seabirds -- hundreds of thousand a year -- but it's nothing like the tens of millions killed by fossil fuel plants. So the Audubon Society, for example, has embraced offshore wind.

As for sea life, the experience around the Block Island turbines suggests it's a boon to sport fisherman. But commercial fisherman are worried, and warn that construction could ruin them, and that's going to be an important part of the environmental process going forward.

This segment aired on May 23, 2018.

Earlier Coverage:

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



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