Offshore wind energy gears up to hook up

Source: By Mary Ann Bragg, Cape Cod Times • Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017

FALMOUTH — As three offshore wind energy developers move closer to preparing construction plans for areas south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, each will spend time this summer exploring where to install transmission cables to connect their turbines to the grid.

“We started mobilization last week,” Bay State Wind permitting project manager Pernille Hermansen said Tuesday at a regional stakeholder task force meeting in Falmouth. “That was one vessel, and we just mobilized another vessel yesterday.”

The company has leased 187,000 acres south of the Islands from the federal government, alongside competitors Vineyard Wind, with 167,000 acres, and farther west, Deepwater Wind with 165,000 acres.

Deepwater Wind, which already has five turbines installed and in operation off the coast of Block Island in Rhode Island, is the furthest along the federal regulatory permitting path. The government expects to make a decision on the company’s plans for assessing the lease site by year-end. With that approval, the company could erect meteorological towers or buoys to collect specific information about the area.

Bay State Wind has submitted a complete site assessment plan, which is now under review, and federal officials are reviewing the Vineyard Wind plan for completeness.

Vineyard Wind is estimating 2020 as a construction start date, according to a recent announcement about its new partner, Avangrid Renewables. Bay State Wind will be looking for the best transmission cable corridor this summer, mostly likely at the soon-to-close Brayton Point power station in Somerset.

Vineyard Wind is also looking for the best place to connect onshore.

“We do know we’re going to interconnect onto the Cape,” said Vineyard Power Cooperative President Richard Andre, representing Vineyard Wind at the task force meeting. “There’s several locations from Barnstable to Falmouth.”

Vineyard Power partnered with Vineyard Wind in 2015 on the project.

The company has worked with town leaders on the Cape, and the survey company is working with groups that might have concerns, including about the effect on fishing fleets, Andre said.

The survey for Bay State Wind will likely take three weeks, with a start date depending on the weather, Hermansen said. The company is considering the coal-fired Brayton Point station because the existing switch yard doesn’t need a lot of upgrades.

“Cost wise it makes pretty good sense because it’s in pretty good shape,” said Lauren Burm, spokeswoman for Bay State Wind.

Deepwater Wind will be doing more analysis, with on- and off-shore surveys and talking with community members before deciding on a transmission cable route, said Deepwater Wind spokeswoman Meaghan Wims.

“It will involve input from many different stakeholders across Long Island,” Wims said.

While the company will first develop one corner of its leased acres near New York, plans to expand.

“We are planning that full buildout,” said Aileen Kenney, vice-president of permitting and environmental affairs for Deepwater Wind.

All three companies will be focused, too, on a request for proposals expected at the end of June from the three electric distribution companies in Massachusetts, which will solicit bids from offshore wind power businesses that want to sell their energy under state guidelines. Bay State Wind is a collaboration between utility giant Eversource Energy — which distributes electricity on the Cape and Vineyard, as well as in other parts of the state and New England — and DONG Energy, which has built more offshore wind turbines than any other company in the world, with 21 offshore wind farms in operation and another seven under construction.

Each company has also hired at least one person to reach out to local fishing interests, as part of the best management practices recommended by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“They do not attend meetings so people like myself are critical,” James Kendall, who has been hired by Vineyard Wind to reach out to the fishing community, said about fishermen.

Federal officials are also preparing for an auction of two unleased areas south of the islands, given that two other companies have expressed interest in one of the areas. While one person at the task force meeting suggested fewer companies could increase the chances of cooperation in the overall offshore wind energy effort, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Offshore Wind Director William White advocated for more developers.

“More competition drives down rates for ratepayers,” White said.