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Checking in on Vineyard Wind, country's first large offshore wind project in Mass.

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The spot at Covell's Beach in Barnstable where electricity from Vineyard Wind's turbines will come ashore. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The spot at Covell's Beach in Barnstable where electricity from Vineyard Wind's turbines will come ashore. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Massachusetts has a lot riding on offshore wind: The ability to meet the state's clean energy and climate goals, create thousands of new jobs and help revitalize some old port cities like New Bedford and Salem.

For decades, many environmentalists predicted that a European-style "offshore wind revolution" was just around the corner. But between the Cape Wind debacle, permitting holdups under the Trump administration and federal lawsuits, the big question became whether offshore would actually ever take off in the U.S.

Fast forward to today, however, and the answer seems to be yes. There's tangible progress being made on the state and country's first commercial scale project, Vineyard Wind 1.

The 62-turbine, 800 megawatt project got final federal approval in May 2021. Since then, the company — also called Vineyard Wind — has been hard at work, aiming to get power flowing into the grid by the end of 2023.

WBUR recently took a trip to Barnstable to see where the project stands and learn what still needs to be done.

Cable-laying vessels off Covell's Beach in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Cable-laying vessels off Covell's Beach in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Off the coast of Barnstable, Vineyard Wind has two large boats helping to position big power cables and bury them about 6 feet beneath the ocean floor. Once the project is up and running, the electricity generated by the turbines will travel through 40 miles of this cable before making landfall at Covell's Beach.

A cable-laying vessel off Covell's Beach in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A cable-laying vessel off Covell's Beach in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The Ulisse, the larger of the two boats in the water, has a hook-shaped crane. If you look closely, you can see the power cable hanging down — it weighs about 100 pounds per foot.

This boat also has a special machine that buries cables under the ocean floor. At the front end, the machine blasts water at the sea bed to create a deep and narrow trench. It then positions the cable in the ditch and fills the trench back in. It does this in one pass with relatively minimal environmental impact.

Vineyard Wind has buried about two-thirds of the subsea cables that will run from the wind project to the beach and will complete the last segments in the next few months.

One of the cables that will carry power from Vineyard Wind's turbines comes ashore at Covell's Beach. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
One of the cables that will carry power from Vineyard Wind's turbines comes ashore at Covell's Beach. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Getting the power cables to land and then into the electric grid is a different process. Beginning about 500 feet offshore, each of the buried power cables enters a protective metal tube that runs under the beach.

Those tubes end here in the parking lot in deep trenches. Earlier this week, Vineyard Wind threaded the second cable through the metal tube and into the trench.

"Pulling the cable in and connecting it with the onshore cable is the milestone that really connects offshore and onshore [work]," said Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller.

One of the cables that will carry power from Vineyard Wind's turbines comes ashore in a trench at Covell's Beach. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
One of the cables that will carry power from Vineyard Wind's turbines comes ashore in a trench at Covell's Beach. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Onshore, the thick power cable continues for another few hundred feet under the parking lot. Once the cable is in its proper place, workers will remove the metal scaffolding, fill in the trench and pave over it, returning the area to a useable parking lot.

The first of the two big 230 kilovolt cables was covered last year.

Vineyard Wind's Ian Campbell holds a cross section of one of the three power lines carried inside the landfall cables at Covell's Beach. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Vineyard Wind's Ian Campbell holds a cross section of one of the three power lines carried inside the landfall cables at Covell's Beach. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Each of the two cables is actually a bundle of three smaller cables. Ian Campbell of Vineyard Wind shows off a cross-section of one of the smaller cables.

A landfall cable emerges in a transition joint bay, where it will be connected to the cables that will carry the power underground to an electrical substation further inland. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A landfall cable emerges in a transition joint bay, where it will be connected to the cables that will carry the power underground to an electrical substation further inland. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

After tunneling under the Covell's Beach parking lot, the cables will continue underground to the electrical substation Vineyard Wind is building about five miles away.

After traveling inland underground, power lines from Vineyard Wind's turbines come above ground again at an electrical substation. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
After traveling inland underground, power lines from Vineyard Wind's turbines come above ground again at an electrical substation. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The work to dig under five miles of local roads in Barnstable has been completed and the underground protective tubes are in place.

Later this year, Vineyard Wind workers will use manholes in the street to pull the six cables from the beach to the substation.

Post insulators and current transformers at Vineyard Wind's electrical substation in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Post insulators and current transformers at Vineyard Wind's electrical substation in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The electrical substation covers seven acres of land and has a special drainage system so that it doesn't contribute to already-existing stormwater runoff problems in the area.

The substation is about 70% complete and has been built entirely by union laborers. Vineyard Wind expects the work to be done in the coming months so that power from the first few turbines can enter the grid by the end of 2023.

Transformers at Vineyard Wind's electrical substation will step down the voltage of the incoming power. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Transformers at Vineyard Wind's electrical substation will step down the voltage of the incoming power. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The gray box pictured here is a transformer. There are several of them in the substation, and they do the actual work of "stepping down" the power voltage so it can travel through the grid to homes and businesses.

Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller at Covell's Beach in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Vineyard Wind CEO Klaus Moeller at Covell's Beach in Barnstable. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The U.S. currently has 7 offshore wind turbines that collectively generate 42 megawatts. As the country's first utility-scale offshore wind farm, Vineyard Wind will have 62 turbines capable of generating 800 megawatts — enough power for about 400,000 homes in Massachusetts.

"We call Vineyard Wind the 'forever first' project," says CEO Klaus Moeller. "We are really, really proud of the work we're doing."

And while a lot has been done on Vineyard Wind, there's still quite a bit left to do — install the turbines and offshore substation, for instance. Much of this work, which requires a tremendous amount of coordination and logistics, will happen over the spring, summer and early fall.

Moeller says the company is on track, so if all goes according to plan, the first electrons from Vineyard Wind should begin flowing into the power grid by the end of this year.

This article was originally published on January 19, 2023.

Miriam Wasser Twitter Senior Reporter, Climate and Environment
Miriam Wasser is a reporter with WBUR's climate and environment team.

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Robin Lubbock Twitter Videographer, Photographer
Robin Lubbock is a videographer and photographer for WBUR.

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