Massachusetts just gave a huge boost to the offshore wind industry

Source: By Chelsea Harvey, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Elected officials and Deepwater Wind executives cheer during a ceremony last mont h to mark the installation of the first jacket support structure for a wind farm in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Block Island, Rhode Island. (Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a new energy law on Monday that could give a huge boost to the country’s offshore wind industry. The legislation, which was overwhelmingly passed last week by the state legislature, includes the nation’s biggest commitment to offshore wind energy, requiring utilities to procure a combined 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms in a little over 10 years.

The legislation comes at a time when the offshore wind industry is still ramping up in the United States. Although multiple projects have been proposed up and down the East Coast, there are no working turbines in the water yet. That should soon change.

In Rhode Island, wind energy development company Deepwater Wind is preparing to enter the final stages of construction — perhaps as early as next week — on a 30-megawatt offshore wind farm. While relatively small in scale, the project would be the first of its kind to function in U.S. waters, and has been hailed as a long-awaited jump start to the nation’s offshore wind industry.

Deepwater also has interests in the state of New York, where it’s proposed a 90-megawatt, 15-turbine wind farm off the coast of Long Island. Originally, the Long Island Power Authority was scheduled to approve the project on July 20. However, it delayed the vote at the request of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, which asked to hold off until the release of a comprehensive master plan for the state’s offshore wind development. Environmental groups are urging officials to move forward with the approval process as soon as possible.

In the meantime, New York’s Public Service Commission voted Monday to approve the state’s Clean Energy Standard. The plan would require 50 percent of New York’s electricity to come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by the year 2030. The Deepwater project, once approved, would be a critical component of achieving that goal.

In Massachusetts’ case, the mandated renewable energy doesn’t have to come from the state, itself. While several projects have been proposed in Massachusetts waters, none have launched yet. The most well-known of these is the Cape Wind project, a proposed installation of 130 turbines with a combined capacity of 468 megawatts. The project has been involved in multiple permitting struggles and other financing and legal snafus since its inception more than a decade ago.

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Aside from the Cape Wind project, several other wind development companies hold leases in Massachusetts waters, including Deepwater Wind, Denmark-based DONG Energy and OffshoreMW, headquartered in Germany.

In terms of the new bill’s wind requirements, though, individual companies must solicit bids for proposals with a capacity of at least 400 megawatts each. The goal is a combined 1,600 megawatts in long-term contracts by June 2027.

The bill has been hailed by renewable energy advocates and wind developers as a major step forward for both clean energy in Massachusetts and wind development in the country as a whole.

In a recent statement, Peter Shattuck, Massachusetts director of the clean energy organization Acadia Center, hailed the legislation as a “huge step on the path to a clean energy future.” And DONG Energy’s General Manager of North America, Thomas Brostrøm, called the legislation a “landmark moment for Massachusetts’ clean energy future and a victory for the Commonwealth’s residents and businesses.”

Combined, the recent breakthroughs in U.S. wind development and investment — in Massachusetts, New York and elsewhere — may help boost the industry in a nation where it’s heretofore been slow to launch. And that’s a win not only for those states, but for clean energy in the country as a whole.